09/26/2016

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By: Sarah Groh, America Forward Manager

As Clinton and Trump prepare to square off on the debate stage tonight, the stakes couldn’t be higher. With an anticipated TV viewing audience that could rival Super Bowl ratings, tonight is an unprecedented opportunity for the candidates to make their case and lay out a strong vision for the nation.

Here at America Forward, we spend our days working with folks on both sides of the aisle to move a comprehensive policy agenda that leverages the best outcomes-driven policy ideas in workforce development, K-12 and higher education and social innovation. Without a doubt the Presidential election is a critical time to discuss key priorities and our team has been on the trail across the country since the primaries lifting up not only the challenges we see in this country but the solutions to address them. We’ve hosted briefings with senior campaign staffers, held site visits and roundtable discussions with campaigns and our Coalition organizations, and we’ve been making our case for a bipartisan policy agenda grounded in scaling community solutions to solve some of our nation’s most intractable challenges.

Tonight’s debate moderator, Mr. Lester Holt, certainly has his work cut out for him as he questions the candidates on the broad categories and themes that he intends to cover during the debate: “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity,” and “Securing America.” As we tune in this evening, we’ll be eagerly listening to hear the candidates address the five major challenges we’ve been elevating on the campaign trail and throughout our work with our Coalition of more than 70 innovative organizations:

  1. Government that Works. Across the country, communities are finding innovative ways to collaborate and solve new and old social problems and government has a role to play in supporting and scaling what works. We need a government that works to catalyze community-led problem-solving by investing in proven innovations, making data accessible, measuring outcomes, investing in technology and facilitating cross-sector collaboration.
  2. Education for the Future. There is consensus that the ways many of our students are taught in schools is stuck in the last century. At the same time there are educators, advocates and communities driving real practical innovation that meets the needs of their students; specifically, students who face barriers like trauma, learning differences and poverty. We need to work together to build an education system that meets the demands of the future and breaks down barriers to learning for all students.
  3. Market-Able America. For decades, America led the world in the percentage of citizens with higher education degrees. But we are quickly falling in the ranks. That reality impacts employers’ abilities to find the workers they need and workers’ ability to gain the skills they need in order to achieve employment. At the same time, today’s post-secondary students come from varied walks of life and bring more diverse experience than ever (nearly 30% are parenting, more than 70% are financially independent) We need more pathways to marketable post-secondary credentials so that we can support our students, prepare our workforce, and compete in today’s global economy.
  4. First Jobs. Regardless of background, getting a first full-time job starts a young person on a path to becoming economically successful. We need to focus on connecting every young adult to a “first job” that can completely change their lives by calling on private entities to create apprenticeships and on-the-job training opportunities, by leveraging service year positions, and by investing in social enterprises offering jobs that can be a bridge to traditional employment.
  5. Second Chances. For some, doors to education and employment are slammed shut. For others, the help that’s there is too hard to find. These challenges have a ripple effect impacting families and in some cases, whole communities. We need to provide better second chances and on-ramps to opportunities for people who were previously incarcerated, homeless, or suffering from substance abuse and mental health problems.

Behind each of these priorities are personal stories, community partnerships and viable policy solutions. Tonight we challenge the candidates to discuss these key priorities and to lift up the solutions that are being driven by communities and organizations across this country. We challenge them to discuss this tonight but to also continue this critical conversation throughout the 43 days left until the general election.

Read more about how social innovators in the America Forward Coalition are solving America’s biggest problems in communities across the country every day in our briefing book, Moving America Forward: Innovators Lead the Way to Unlocking America’s Potential, and join the conversation. Follow @America_Forward, and tweet about the debate tonight using #AFPresidential16.

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