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Reward Public Service With Free College, Says White House Hopeful Gillibrand

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It's safe to say that K-12 education isn't getting a ton of attention on the presidential campaign trail. But one Democratic candidate is proposing making it easier for young people who do volunteering and similar work to go to college.

During a campaign event in Michigan Monday evening, Sen. Kirsten Gilibrand, D-N.Y., said there should be a service-minded incentive for students who are looking to lessen the financial burden of getting a postsecondary degree.

"Imagine telling every American kid, if you do public service for a year, you get two years free of community college or state school," she said during an MSNBC town hall. "Do two years of public service, you get four years free. That would create a pipeline of kids doing service for someone else."

That's at least a small twist on the popular idea in Democratic circles—and among many of the 2020 White House hopefuls—of "free college" (although even these proposals don't always treat student tuition and debt the same). 

In 2015, 29 percent of high school students did some form of volunteering, according to a study released last year by the University of Maryland's Do Good Institute, although volunteerism by those students can vary widely between states. And the share of teenagers in general who volunteer declined from 28 percent in 2005 to 25 percent in 2015, which ended a 30-year run of rising rates of community service for that age group. 

In addition, there's research indicating that requiring high school students to participate in some kind of volunteering might actually make them less likely to volunteer over the long term. 

At the same town hall event, Gillibrand started off those preceding remarks about education with an applause line, saying, "One of the problems with President Trump is Betsy DeVos." The senator noted that she voted against DeVos' nomination for education secretary in 2017, and went on to say that she worried about DeVos' approach to survivors of sexual assault. 

In the coming months, it's worth watching how often Democrats take the opportunity to bash DeVos when someone brings up education in town halls, diners, press conferences, and debates. 

Click here for our rundown of Gillibrand's views on education when she announced her interest in a presidential run. And go here for our preview from last year on where 2020 contenders stand on K-12

Photo: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)


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