I am a product of the Cape Cod public school system and believe strongly in its abilities. Our children deserve a world-class education, where they graduate prepared for college, trade work, or any other roads that lay ahead. To provide a rigorous and exceptional education for our children, we must continue to recruit, retain, and support the best teachers for our schools, fight budget cuts in public education, and oppose legislation that threatens Cape Cod’s schools. Current conditions cannot be allowed to continue.

Our teachers are under-compensated, and many have taken second jobs to support themselves and their families. On top of this, we burden them with purchasing supplies for their classrooms without reimbursement. This is unacceptable, and can have serious ramifications for students. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development studies the state of education around the world, examining everything from intergenerational mobility in education to graduation rates to teacher pay.

They’ve found that American public school teachers are underpaid compared to workers in the U.S. with comparable education levels. Elementary school teachers make two thirds of what college-educated workers in other professions earn. High school teachers earn 71 percent. The OECD also found that American teachers spend roughly 1131 hours a year in the classroom compared to the global average of 782 hours in the 36 countries surveyed.

We need to address issues both within and outside the classroom. Not all home lives can provide the support and stability a child needs during their most vital developmental years. Substance abuse, alcoholism, divorce, the absence of one or both parents, and neglect in the home can greatly impact the way a child approaches formal education. We need to create a path to success with adaptable education and instruction that can cater to the needs of individual students, while giving them outlets along the way.

Nutrition is the cornerstone to an active and engaged brain, yet many of our children go to school hungry. Programs like No Kid Hungry, a national campaign aimed at addressing hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world, must remain intact. The Trump administration is constantly threatening deep cuts to this program, I will work with our state and local legislature to ensure our children are protected and fed.

Education should begin at a younger age, cognitive development and creative expression begin before age one and parents with young children need the help just as much as those with older ones. The average annual cost of infant care for one child in Massachusetts is $17,062, which is $6,360 more expensive than in-state tuition for a four-year public college. I want to bring children into our senior and community centers. Toddlers and our youngest children benefit from exposure to public school programs from infancy, as well as the increased attention and socializing community involvement brings.

According to a study done in Japan in 2013, toddlers brought into contact with seniors developed respect and empathy for the elderly, which enhanced their social and personal development. For children living far away from their grandparents, the arrangement exposed them to a segment of society that they otherwise would not know except as an abstraction.

The same study showed that seniors also benefitted from the arrangement. They began smiling and conversing more among themselves, exhibited delayed mental decline, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of disease and death compared to seniors in nonparticipating facilities. It combated the loneliness and boredom that characterize so many nursing centers and life at home without a loved one or family around.

This program would be included in our public school system, with full time teachers orchestrating the programs and high school students in aid roles. From a community cost perspective, rent and staff costs can take up as much as 95% of expenditure at care facilities, but sharing the cost can be more more efficient than if the programs were run independently.

The current system fails to serve our at-risk students. We need an alternative learning environment flush with the resources necessary to give our youth an opportunity to succeed. According to studies by The Barnstable County Regional Substance Abuse Council, at least 3.1% (5,691) of residents in Barnstable County are addicted to or dependent upon heroin or prescription opioids. The estimated number of persons addicted to alcohol on Cape Cod is 17,063, or 7.9% of the population.

With substance abuse rates at a fever pitch across Cape Cod, we need new solutions. The Cape needs a drug rehabilitation school, for teens of all ages; a sober learning environment that includes cognitive behavioral therapy, education, self-esteem building, and a clear path to recovery. I would ask the Massachusetts Recovery High Schools organization to assist with development and funding. An established alternative learning environment can take the burden off of our teachers and build classrooms that are catered to more individualized experiences without unnecessary distractions.

Charter schools cannot be the solution to these problems if we want to help as many of our children as possible. Students should be given the opportunity to test into one if they choose, but such schools should not be used as a secondary option to public education and enrollment must be capped. It’s imperative we re-direct our energy into public schools.

The strength of our educational system is a direct reflection of the involvement of the community. Students face a multitude of distractions at home and out in the world, but I will work tirelessly with parents and educators to ensure that our children’s lives are as stable and nurturing as possible.