MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders told Vermont lawmakers Wednesday more needs to be done to provide early childhood education and encourage children to think about going to college long before high school.
During a 45-minute meeting with state lawmakers on the House and Senate education committees, Sanders said he feared the country is failing its young people, especially those up to age four.
‘‘We have got to make sure that every kid in this country, regardless of income has high quality early childhood education. That’s an expensive proposition, but we are a long, long way from doing that,’’ Sanders said.
‘‘I worry that today you probably have millions of kids who are right now sitting in somebody’s living room watching dumb television programs rather than getting the quality early childhood education both on an intellectual and emotional basis that they need,’’ he said.
There are other challenges to the quality education, including 22 percent of children who are living in poverty, about 25 percent are on food stamps and there are hundreds of thousands of homeless children across the country, including some in Vermont, he said.
While Vermont does well in many national measures of education, nationwide the country is falling further behind the rest of the world, Sanders said. A well-educated workforce is needed to ensure the United States remains competitive in an increasingly competitive world.
About 30 years ago, the U.S. had the highest percent of people going on to higher education, the same rate as today. But, now the country ranks 15th in the world in the percentage of people going on to college.
Sanders also talked about how the cost of college is so expensive many young people are choosing not to go, and that many who do attend college are saddled with huge student debt when the graduate.
‘‘We have to take a hard look at what’s going on. We all understand and we appreciate that in a democratic society, by definition we want a well-educated population,’’ Sanders said.
Sanders offered no immediate solutions to the problems he outlined. He said the stark political divide in Washington made finding immediate solutions impossible.
‘‘There is a huge ideological and philosophical divide about what America should be and where we should go,’’ Sanders said. ‘‘It is incredibly partisan.’’