We need a new deal on education.

For generations, taxpayers have reaped the benefits of a wise investment in education. By providing education in a K-12 (and then pre-K through 12) and in supporting some of the costs for higher education through programs like Pell Grants and state-run colleges and universities, we have provided a path that gets children from all backgrounds into the middle class. Indeed, there was a time when K-12 education was more than what was required to reach the middle class. That is, without question, no longer the case.

High-school graduates lag farther and farther behind workers with a four-year degree (income trends). It is clear that our nation is getting smaller and smaller returns on our investment in K-12 education. To get more for our money, we must invest enough to get young adults on a secure path to the middle class. That may not require that we cover the full costs of getting a four-year college degree. However, it will require that we provide more and better education for our children. That likely means more college classes in high school, more years of schooling at public expense, and more interaction between businesses and educators to see that we are meeting the needs of our economy and not relying too heavily on bringing in skilled immigrants to fill the gaps.

We also must start a program of interest-free educations loans for all adults who want to attend college or vocational or professional schools. Students with existing loans must be allowed to convert those loans to this program. We are damaging our economy by producing indebted graduates and holding back our growth by making more education too expensive for too many Americans.

These programs will help us get a better tax return from the graduates we produce, spreading the costs out among a growing tax base. The more middle-class and upper-class taxpayers we produce through our education system, the less burdensome the cost will be for everyone.