Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introduced the first White House Online Summit on Education yesterday morning, to talk about the current state of America’s education and the improvements the Obama Administration is making.
The summit took place on White House grounds, and I had the opportunity to be part of a diverse group of online media outlets that focused parenting, education, financial, and current news.
Secretary Duncan kicked off his speech with some sobering statistics: The U.S. currently ranks #16 in college education rates around the world (down from #1), and our country has a 25% college drop-out rate, with more than 1 million kids leaving school with no employable skills to find a job. And these lack of skills is increasingly a bigger crisis than our job crisis, impeding young adults from finding and keeping good jobs.
To help with the skills crisis, there is increased investment in long-term early childhood education, especially on K-12 reform for the next 15-20 years. Launching and investing $600 million behind the Race to the Top initiative has been one solution to help a future generation learn basic skills, such as reading, before reaching kindergarten. Also, 46 states have chosen to raise their educational standards, and more support been given to the bottom 5% of schools in the U.S., which has increased reading and math skills and decreased violence and discipline problems.
The Secretary also acknowledged that the No Child Left Behind Act is essentially “broken” and has caused states to “dumb down” academic standards during the past few years. The the White House is now partnering with 20 states to provide waivers and “empower” them to be more innovative with educational plans. Another goal is to train and retain talented teachers, to “elevate and strengthen” 1 million new professionals in the next 4-6 years. All this will work toward a challenge President Obama has set: to have the U.S. be the world leader in higher education by 2020.
Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending a Women’s Health Town Hall at The White House. The goal was to discuss the many ways that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has benefited Americans, particularly women and families. As Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described life before ACA, “Insurers could deny women coverage for being a breast-cancer survivor, for having had a c-section, for being a victim of domestic violence. In effect, being a woman was a pre-existing condition. The Affordable Care Act has put basic fairness in place.” Some of the health care law’s biggest benefits, all in effect right now:
Insurance companies are no longer allowed to deny coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions, such as asthma or diabetes. Considering that there are 7 million children in the U.S. with asthma, and another 215,000 people under age 20 have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, this provision is vital. In 2014, ACA will make it illegal for anyone to be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition, not just children.
Insurers can’t put a lifetime limit on how much they will pay if you become ill. We saw the importance of this provision firsthand, when we met 8-month-old Jax, a twin who was born with a genetic disorder. The cost of his first day in the NICU alone was $150,000–imagine . Because there’s no lifetime limit on his healthcare coverage, his parents have one fewer concern (and a gigantic one at that) to worry about. Watch this video to meet Jax and his mom, Robyn.
Children younger than age 26 can stay on their parents’ plan. Again, we saw precisely how crucial this is when Abby spoke to us. A 20-year-old student at the University of Minnesota with a rare congenital disease, Abby doesn’t have to stress over how she’ll pay for her preventive care and any upcoming surgeries she’ll need (she’s already had the shunt in her head replaced four times.) I was touched when we saw a video with Abby’s story and her mom said, “There’s things I can’t do about the future, but this has really helped her future.” It made me think about how powerless and scared I would feel if one my daughters had a lifelong health condition–and how grateful I would feel to know I could actively help her by providing her with healthcare for years after she graduated college.
Of course, the ACA is in real danger of being overturned by the Supreme Court because the requirement for minimum health-insurance coverage and the expansion of Medicaid is considered by some states to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court could strike down those two provisions, or they could wipe out the entire law, or they might do something else altogether. A decision is expected by the end of the month.
If you’ve been confused by what the ACA offers, and how it might help your family, go to healthcare.gov. You’ll find lots of information, including a timeline of what’s changing and when. And if you want to share your story of how ACA has made a difference in your life, go to the MyCare section of the site. The Department of Health & Human Services definitely wants to hear from you.
Shameless personal photo op: me at the iconic podium of the press briefing room!