Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke visited Jóvenes Inc, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping homeless youth, one of two campaign stops in Boyle Heights this weekend.
On Friday, the 47-year-old former Congressman from Texas –who is seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination– sat down with local youth to discuss some of his ideas regarding such issues as homelessness and public education .
Several youth affiliated with Jóvenes had the opportunity to chat with O’Rourke and ask him about his candidacy. Debra Franza, who is a part of Jóvenes’ Community College Program, told O’Rourke that she struggled with pursuing a higher education and housing stability.
One of the ideas O’Rourke offered, to help homeless community college students, was a plan to make the first two years of community college free across the country, in order for students to be able to obtain an associates degree. He also said students should get free tuition for their first two years of working on their bachelor’s degree.
On the subject of making college more accessible and affordable, he proposed a four- year debt-free program that would not only cover tuition, but the cost of room and board and books –the full cost of being able to pursue a higher education. For those who already have a student loan debt, he said he wants those people to have the ability to refinance the loan at lower interest rates. He said he wants to have a student loan forgiveness plan for those who work in public service –as a teacher or at a non-profit like Jóvenes– to wipe out the rest of their student loan debt.
O’Rourke also discussed public education and where he stands on charter schools, a hot-button issue in Boyle Heights.
“I want to make sure that we do not allow for-profit charter schools to take any public resources whatsoever,” O’Rourke said. “That we end this idea of using vouchers and public tax dollars to send kids to private schools and that we strengthen public education in America which is so important to our success as a country.”
He said that as president he would make sure that public tax dollars stay in public school. He said the plan is to set up a permanent education fund that will generate $20-25 billion a year. These funds will serve minorities in school districts that are underfunded to ensure schools have facilities, teachers and resources to invest in the full well-being of the students.
O’Rourke ended the visit by saying that he looks forward to continue working with Jóvenes to help resolve the issue of homelessness.
“Very happy that we got to learn more about Jóvenes and the great work that they’re doing here,” the Democratic hopeful said. “[It’s a] great example that they’re setting for America and how to address homelessness, especially homelessness that impacts young people.”
On Saturday, O’Rourke attended a town hall meeting at La Casa del Mexicano, where he addressed such issues as gun control and climate change. According to The Corsair, a student newspaper at Santa Monica College, a small crowd of supporters attended the event where O’Rourke was officially endorsed by Congressman Jimmy Gómez and state Senator María Elena Durazo.