On May 24, the top students of the senior class at Cristo Rey Boston High School revealed their college choices in an annual public celebration of their accomplisments. Cristo Rey is a Catholic high school in Boston exclusively dedicated to educating under-resourced students. I’ve been Board Chair for more than 20 years and my association with the school and its students runs deep. Before the school joined the Cristo Rey Network of Catholic schools in 2004, it was known as North Cambridge Catholic High School, my alma mater. Through an approach combining rigorous academics with a work-study requirement, Cristo Rey successfully prepares students for college and careers. For the last seven years, all of Cristo Rey Boston’s graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges. There is nothing like witnessing the moment when these students first announce their college choice to their school community. It’s their American dream coming to life.
It’s a similar scene every May on many campuses across the country as commencement speakers praise students’ accomplishments and encourage them to find success in the world. Yet the world they enter today is very uncertain. College-bound graduates, like those at Cristo Rey, must navigate a future where President Trump seeks to reduce and even abolish many programs designed to help afford a college education.
The president’s proposed budget would eliminate federally subsidized loans and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, initiatives that are often the difference between low-income students attending college or not. The President’s budget proposes to end the public-service loan forgiveness program which was created to support students interested in contributing to society by pursuing careers as teachers, nonprofit professionals or social workers by forgiving debt on loans after 10 years in good standing. The president’s budget would cut by 50 percent federal education spending on work-study programs, end the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, reduce spending to the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, and slash funding of innovative international academic programs like the Fulbright Scholar program by nearly 50 percent.
Proposals that target those who need government support the most are throughout the budget. Medicaid is cut by $800 billion, and there are major reductions to federal disability insurance. Anti-poverty and nutrition programs are targeted – like food stamps, which was needed by about 15 percent of the US population during the recession that began in 2008. As a final insult to working people, the Trump budget seeks to lower taxes for the wealthy, promising that their economic benefits will eventually extend to other income strata.
Fortunately, our government is based on a system of checks and balances. Each and every one of the president’s budget proposals will be scrutinized by Congress, as Senators and Representatives hear directly from constituents about the real human impact of these programs. Already, some members of the Republican majority have expressed hesitation over these proposals, and the disorganized approach to goverenance at the White House continues to create more reservation. But these proposals’ effects are already evident in state houses nationwide as legislatures struggle to budget for the fiscal implications and uncertainties coming from Washington.
When I look at the faces of Cristo Rey Boston’s graduating seniors, I see optimism for the future and a passion for excellence. They’ve worked hard for this moment, overcoming many obstacles most of us never will experience. They have succeeded, in part, because everyone on the staff and faculty is fully vested in their success.
Being vested in one another as a nation is what we now need more than ever from Washington.