“i love u guys”

I applaud the brave students from Florida, who in the aftermath of the tragic Parkland shooting are demanding gun reform in efforts to prevent more lives from being senselessly taken in another act of violence. I cannot imagine how much courage it takes for them to speak out about the atrocities they endured while lobbying politicians for change. Seeing the passion of these students gives me hope for the future, because these are the young people shaping their communities.

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Trump on ISIS

In just over two months, President Trump has faced numerous obstacles. One of those involves the war in the Middle East, which he has not handled responsibly.

While campaigning, Trump reiterated his desire to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS). In a speech last August, he stated: “my administration will aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS, international cooperation to cut off their funding, expanded intelligence sharing, and cyber-warfare to disrupt and disable their propaganda and recruiting.” Though most of this cannot feasibly be accomplished in just two months, or even in a year, Trump has yet to put forth a preliminary formal plan in regard to ISIS while in office.

Americans should have been wary of Trump’s ability to defeat ISIS when he was unable to reveal his plan for doing so during his campaign, despite constant reassurances that he had one. When questioned more recently as to why he would not describe this grand plan, the president simply said that he did have one but the enemy shouldn’t know what it was, and would know if he made it public. These empty reassurances made it easier for millions of Americans to put their faith in Trump during the campaign.

Trump has openly criticized the ongoing offensive against Mosul, a city in Iraq that ISIS seized two years ago. Shortly before the election, he went so far as to say that it was an international conspiracy aimed at aiding Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The then-candidate also called the Mosul offensive a “total disaster” that makes the United States look “dumb.” Such strong words indicate that Trump likely did not understand the gains made, primarily by Iraqi troops, in countering ISIS in and around Mosul. Though taking the city proved difficult – and for many soldiers, deadly – it is important to recognize that substantial progress against the Islamic State has been made in doing so.

Parts of Mosul, however, remain uncaptured and under siege. ISIS currently has roughly 400,000 civilians in these areas that it plans to use as human shields. Despite these potential setbacks, the Iraqi army, working with U.S. forces, expects to retake the entire city. Given this positive outlook, it seems strange that Donald Trump would publically criticize the offensive. His criticism is even more odd when one takes into account his stance on veterans during his campaign. Some of his remarks about the offensive for Mosul seemed disrespectful to the families of soldiers killed in it. Despite Trump’s criticisms, he has continued to provide U.S. troops to fight in Mosul.

Some actions for which Trump bears some responsibility have proved disastrous for the people in Mosul. Currently the U.S. and Iraq are investigating whether an American-led coalition air strike caused the deaths of more than 100 there on March 17. If the U.S. is responsible, this will be one of the greatest losses of civilian lives since coalition airstrikes began in 2014. By killing civilians, even if by accident, Trump’s military decisions are likely aiding the process of radicalization among Iraqis more than effectively fighting global terrorism. Some of Trump’s actions against the Islamic State, and his attitude toward our current military offensive, have served to reinforce the belief that he is unlikely to follow through on many of his campaign promises and the fear that he is unfit for the role of Commander in Chief.



In Defense of School Choice

The United States ranks third globally in expenditures on public education as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Furthermore, in 2012, the United States’s spending on elementary and secondary education was $11,700 per student, 31 percent higher than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s average of $9,000. In 2012, American students ranked average: 28th in science, 36th in mathematics, and 24th in reading. Eighteen countries outranked the U.S. in all three subjects. This data suggests that increased education spending is not enough to improve our public schools. 

Over the past few decades, debate has continued over how to fix America’s underperforming public education system. The proposed solution of “school choice” has recently gained momentum, as more and more states implement such options in various forms. School choice gives students more educational opportunities, including access to charter schools, voucher programs, and private school scholarships. 

Many people worry that school choice will divert dollars away from vulnerable school districts, causing students to suffer. While schools need a certain level of spending to cover necessary costs from teachers’ salaries to utilities, many districts have enough funding to cover these resources and could improve their performance without increasing expenditures. One indicator of this possibility is that private school students tend to outperform public school students, despite having budgets 34 percent lower than taxpayer-funded schools.

Opponents of school choice also worry that these policies burden already-struggling school districts. People fear that higher-achieving students will flee failing school districts, resulting in a further loss of funding and resources for these troubled schools.

However, 29 out of 30 major studies on this topic found that school choice improved struggling schools as well as outcomes for students (just one study found no significant effects). Schools most affected by competition tend to perform slightly better after the implementation of school choice, meaning that both students who change schools and students who stay in struggling districts benefit. 

Another common argument against school choice is the belief that it leaves disadvantaged students behind. But to the contrary: Most students participating in school choice programs come from low-income communities. Additionally, a study by the Brookings Institution and Harvard University found that private school voucher programs made African-American students 24 percent more likely to enroll in college. 

The one downside of school choice, as I see it, is that not all students have the means of transportation to attend “choice schools.” Choice programs have been very successful at involving disadvantaged students in many of America’s cities, where a variety of schools are close to students and public transportation to them is available. But school choice has helped even rural communities. At least 33 states already have free public online education, which provides a form of school choice to students who may not be able to attend other schools due to transportation barriers. Furthermore, online education has a significantly lower overhead cost, saving school districts money without compromising the quality of education. 

Though it would be unwise to slash public school funding, a myriad of studies show that despite increases in spending, American public schools in general continue to struggle. To combat these challenges, it is time that Americans reevaluate the effectiveness of education spending and invest more in alternative options, such as school choice. While opponents fear that school choice hurts disadvantaged students and struggling districts, the data suggests otherwise. School choice could be much of what America needs to improve its struggling schools. 

James Jacobs on Gun Control

Taking into consideration a number of recent shootings that were both tragic and abhorrent, such as those in San Bernardino, Newtown, and Aurora, it’s no wonder that many Americans feel so strongly that more gun control is necessary.  In contrast, one can also see how the strong regulatory sentiment has led to gun-owners to feel threatened, a feeling that has helped fuel gun sales.

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