The Fading Dream of Higher Education

My favorite part of being a student admissions tutor at a local high school was seeing kids light up when they realized they could afford college.I would explain how Pell grants and low interest Stafford and Perkins loans could pay for the bulk of college at a good state school. Together with parents and counselors, we made it possible for first-generation students to go to college.Over the years, it's been harder to send bright, promising students to the colleges they deserve. The portion of college costs covered by Pell Grants keeps shrinking with the rising cost of tuition.Now, a new bill in Congress would make it even more difficult for low-income students to attend college by attacking Pell grants and Stafford loans to invest in our future. The Huffington Post explains:

The plan proposed by Ryan (R-Wis.), who chairs the House Budget Committee, would chop away at Pell grant eligibility, thereby reducing total Pell grants by about $200 billion over the next decade; allow the interest rate for federally subsidized Stafford loans to double; end student loan interest subsidies for those still in school; and make Pell spending discretionary -- instead of mandatory -- allowing further cuts down the line. Pell grants, the largest source of federal financial aid, currently help more than 9 million students to afford college. Following last year's budget standoffs, next year's maximum Pell grant of $5,645 will cover just one-third of the average cost of college -- the smallest share ever.
We are undercutting our future. By attacking Pell grant eligibility and doubling the rates on Stafford loans, we are making it harder for low-income Americans to pursue their dreams of college.

Blueprint for Accountability

Last night I attended a really interesting panel discussion produced by CultureProject, called "Blueprint for Accountability: The Wall Street-Washington Connection." Some really smart, interesting folks were on the panel: Van Jones, Ron Suskind, Matt Taibbi, Eliot Spitzer, Heather McGhee, and Jesse LaGreca. Spitzer wrote a column for the Huffington Post yesterday that covers much of the panel's points, and here's the livestream (it's two hours, but definitely worth skipping around and watching some of the dramatic readings -- especially at 23:50).Karen Finney moderated and steered the discussion toward the impact big banks have had on our economy, then segued into a great discussion about publicly funded elections.In other words: not letting corporate money into campaigns. Wow. Sounds amazing, huh?An interesting moment occurred when Spitzer said he didn't think that publicly funded elections would happen any time soon, citing his experience and years in the "game." Heather McGhee pretty quickly disagreed, owing it to her optimism (not that McGhee's a newbie -- she's a director at Demos, a public policy center).Van discussed our work in the mortgage crisis and student loan debt... the two, of course, being parts of the bigger picture: the way big banks strong-arm so many aspects of our lives.From the program:

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs."-- Thomas Jefferson

NOW'S YOUR CHANCE! Meet a Young Person!

I love everything that Young Invincibles does. They're so badass. Right now, my favorite YI campaign (aside from Campaign for Young America, of course) is this: Meet a Young Person! -- YI's response to the Supreme Court Affordable Care Act arguments. You can read the transcript of the oral arguments here, and just for fun, go through and count how many times they discuss hypothetical "young people" (the answer is... more than they should).So YI decided to respond -- because really... why are 61-year-old SCOTUS Justices so enamored by hypothetical young people, when there are scores of them in real life? Oh wait -- maybe because real young people aren't as conveniently dopey as the Justices would hope.They're asking young folks to submit videos telling the Justices why health care is important to them. Some of the videos are up on the site -- take a look.Here are some ways you can get involved:+ Post to Facebook: Help our Supreme Court justices learn more about young people and health care. Join the "Meet a Young Person" program. Tweet about it: Help Judge Alito/Scalia/Kennedy meet real, live young people. Join the #MeetAYoungPerson program. @YI_Care+ Record a video telling the Justices why you like healthcare and submit to Here's my video!

Really, Congress? Really?

SO. This morning we stepped it up a level (well, you stepped it up a level... we just asked you to). We sent out an email asking Rebuild the Dream members to call their senators with this simple message: "Vote to extend Senate Bill 2051: Don't double student loan interest rates!" Here's what I wrote to our members:

You know what’s frustrating?

Hearing that elected officials aren’t taking student loan debt seriously. The $650 I pay each month in Stafford and private student loans really hurts. Imagine interest rates on some of those loans doubling, as Congress is about to let happen. Where would the money come from? I certainly won’t be buying a house or starting a family any time soon.

What's an economic recovery? It's people, like me, creating businesses, spending money, and starting families. And how will we do any of this if we're saddled with a trillion dollars worth of debt?

In July, Congress is set to allow the interest rate to double if they do not vote to extend a plan put in place five years ago. A few weeks ago we delivered over 130,000 of your letters to Congress telling politicians: “Don’t double student loan interest rates!”

Help us take this fight to the next level and keep the pressure on by flooding Senate offices with calls telling them to make sure this vote is a priority. Calling senators actually makes a difference; they notice when they get a LOT of calls about an issue. It works. We’ve written up a script for you to use as well and provided phone numbers.

Click here to get your senators' numbers and the script we wrote up for you to use.

The message is clear: high interest rates and huge student loans are bad for everyone: students, co-signers, and families.

Subsidized Stafford loans are provided to almost 8 million low and moderate-income students each year. This change would affect millions of students and their families.

Thank you for helping, and be well.Molly and the rest of the Rebuild the Dream team

Let's challenge ALEC: Don't support "Stand Your Ground" laws

Something is clearly wrong when gun laws like "Stand Your Ground" make it possible for George Zimmerman to avoid arrest. It's even more appalling when a group like the American Legislative Exchange Council (whose board is made up of corporate execs and politicians) actively promote such laws.We teamed up with Republic Report, Color of Change, and the Center for Media and Democracy to write an open letter to the corporate board of ALEC asking them to cut their ties with the Council.Here's the letter:

March 26, 2012Dear Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council Private Enterprise Board:
In 2005, the American Legislative Exchange Council adopted a model bill that was almost identical to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law enacted earlier that year. The Florida legislators who introduced that act, Sen. Durell Peaden and Rep. Dennis Baxley, were, like your companies, members of ALEC.That Florida law has allowed George Zimmerman to avoid arrest for killing Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy, and it could make it easier for Zimmerman to avoid prosecution. As you know, Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, was shot while returning from buying a snack.ALEC has made this bill a priority, and numerous ALEC-affiliated state legislators have pushed it.  These laws have been adopted in at least twenty more states.ALEC has long been a central force behind state laws that harm the health and safety of Americans. Last year, it emerged that in 2009 ALEC had endorsed the model for state “Voter ID” laws, which make it harder for low-income people, communities of color, young people, the disabled and elderly, and others to vote, and ALEC legislators have sponsored those bills in numerous states.  And now we know that ALEC backed the law that could let Trayvon Martin’s killer walk free, the same law that risks more tragedies in the other states.We call on your companies to stop supporting ALEC’s reckless agenda, which harms the communities in which you do business.On behalf of our organizations and members, we ask that you formally and publicly end your affiliation with, and your financial support for, the American Legislative Exchange Council, out of respect for Trayvon Martin and his family, and in the interest of making our country less violent and more united.Please respond by contacting Suzanne Merkelson of United Republic at 202 / 299-0911,, or the above mailing address.  If we don’t hear from you soon, we will follow up. Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.Sincerely,Van Jones, co-founder, Rebuild the DreamRashad Robinson, Executive Director, ColorofChange.orgLisa Graves, Executive Director, Center for Media and DemocracyLee Fang, David Halperin, Zaid Jilani, Suzanne Merkelson, Matt StollerEditors, Republic Report, a Project of United Republic

Be the First to Read the New "Rebuild the Dream" Book

Over 25,000 of you submitted ideas online to get our economy back on track. 125,000 of your friends and fellow Americans voted and ranked the ideas most important to them to create the Contract for the American Dream.Today, we're preparing to launch a book, Rebuild the Dream, that discusses the history of our movement by Van Jones, our co-founder and the first person out of the Obama administration to author a book, about how we can reclaim the American Dream without relying on one party or individual.Be the first to read the new book by preordering the Rebuild the Dream for pick up at your local bookstore or have it delivered by Amazon or Powell's Books.

The man blocking America's recovery

Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote a great op-ed for the Washington Post about Edward Demarco, "the most powerful federal employee you’ve never heard of" -- the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. And guess what? As Katrina puts it, DeMarco is "philosophically opposed to the common-sense solutions needed to deal with the housing crisis."Rebuild the Dream gets a shout out along with New Bottom Line and as organizations who are spearheading campaigns to oust Demarco. We've launched AmericaUnderwater and a photo blog dedicated to raising awareness about the mortgage crisis.Check out the article!

Reactions From Last Night's Revival Event

Last night, Rebuild the Dream held its first Revival in Honolulu, Hawaii, supporting economic justice and a State Partnership Bank. Six-hundred members gathered in the State Capitol to discuss a strategy for reviving the American Dream. Hundreds of others tuned in online to watch the event and contribute to the conversation. Catch up on last night's discussion with our summary of the event:[View the story "Rebuild the Dream Revival: Hawaii" on Storify]Do you have any follow-up comments about last night's event? Tweet about it using the hashtag #RebuildHI, or leave a comment below!

Ed DeMarco, You're Over Due

Every day, 2,225 Americans lose their homes.With each passing day Ed DeMarco stalls making a decision on principal reduction that will save millions of underwater homes across the country, over 2,000 Americans are evicted from their homes.The PICO National Network's Gordon Whitman reports that DeMarco's logic for refusing principal reduction no longer makes economic sense.

Housing experts have eviscerated DeMarco's analysis. At a March 15, 2012 Senate Hearing Laurie Goodman, Senior Managing Director at Amherst Securities pointed to three fundamental flaws in his calculations and called on DeMarco to reverse his blanket opposition to writing down mortgage balances. I've heard that economists who work for DeMarco and the entities he regulates have told him that principal reduction is a no-brainer. According to well-respected report by Moody's Investment Services, even without the increased subsidies, reducing principal makes financial sense because it increases the chances that homeowners will stay current on their mortgages.
By allowing homeowners to do principal reductions, the loans will more secure, worth more to investors and help millions of homeowners across the nation. In the meantime, each day DeMarco refuses principal reductions for underwater homeowners, 2,225 Americans will lose their homes, ruin their credit and be further away from achieving their American Dream. Take action today. Sign the petition to tell President Obama to fire Ed DeMarco and appoint someone who is willing to help homeowners underwater on their mortgages.

Hang out in Hawaii with Rebuild the Dream

Rebuild the Dream is excited to be livestreaming the Revival event we're having today in Hawaii.Van's giving an important speech tonight, and we're inviting you not only to watch, but also to participate online.We're hosting our first Rebuild the Dream Revival event in the Hawaii State House. It's going to be government by the people in action, and it's the start of something big.This Spring and Summer, we're going to witness the 99%'s act two -- when we as a movement go from protesting problems to directly creating and winning the solutions that will transform this economy. Van Jones will kick this next phase into gear at the Revival Tuesday night. During his speech, he'll open it up to community leaders like you, in person and online, to react and come up with a plan for action to create a new economy.We want you to be a part of this. You can join online, using your computer in the comfort of your home.RSVP now to watch Van's speech online and join in the discussion, Tuesday night at 9pm PST / 10pm MST.The Revival will be an expression of our values and the world as it should be. And the world we are creating includes art and culture and politics of the people! We'll also have concrete, progressive goals to accomplish.In Hawaii, we'll be pushing for the passage of the Hawaii Partnership Bank, which would create the second state bank in the country as well as over 2,840 small business and farm jobs.That's just one of many solutions that will create a more just, sustainable economy for Hawaii. And it's what we plan to do at Revivals across the country, as we begin the next chapter for the 99% movement by translating energy into power, and anger into answers.RSVP now and join us on Tuesday night for Van's speech.(Note that you'll need a computer with a good Internet connection.)Over the past year, we've sent a clear message: we won't accept an economy built by and for the 1%. Now it's time to show that we can govern ourselves and have a direct hand in building the economy that will work for all of us.