We talk about it at the dinner table and we impress upon its importance with our children. Education is a topic that touches every aspect of our families’ lives. We want our children to have the best opportunity for a bright future. We know the importance of a good education and we know that the path to a cap and gown starts in the home. Undoubtedly, we all agree that education should be the foundation of our society.

I grew up here on the Central Coast and went to public schools in Santa Barbara. I know the struggle that educators face with having to implement a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction. I was not the child who fit the mold and many kids these days aren’t either. I was blessed with some great teachers, but not all of our children are as lucky. Washington and Sacramento have painted teachers into a corner, leaving one to wonder if it’s actually in the best interest of the pupil.

As a society, for decades, we have placed monumental stress on the importance of doing well in a “traditional” system and going to college. Unfortunately, that approach actually may be failing our kids.

Education is an investment in America’s future. That future is facing uncertainty because of the belief that earning a degree is the only path to success. We must be careful not to forget that obtaining a college education isn’t the only path to move America forward. It takes a skilled workforce to build and light our homes, strong hands to lift up our country, and sharp minds to bring forth experience not found in the halls of a university.

I once was told a story about a plumber who saved a man’s life. After getting out of the hospital, the man invited the plumber over for dinner to express his gratitude. That night, the man asked the plumber if he ever thought about being a doctor. The plumber responded telling the man that he used to be a physician but realized that he could make more money being a plumber — a point to which they both had a laugh. The moral of the story is that so often we pressure our children to go to college and overlook the importance of high-demand jobs where our kids actually might thrive.

We must ensure that today’s youth are ready to compete in the 21st century workforce. Because our nation’s economic success is dependent upon the success of this generation, investment in technical and vocational training should be a priority. If we want our children to be prepared to compete in a global economy, we must promote an education system that serves in the best interests of parents, students, and taxpayers alike. Presenting multiple options for students leaving high school and providing them a pathway towards their career will bring down the cost of college education.

Government bureaucrats continue to push all-encompassing federal programs that are increasingly bloated and costly, yet less effective. I believe that we should fight to put parents and teachers in our Central Coast communities in charge of the important educational decisions for our students — not Washington bureaucrats. Multiple sets of curricula are needed to teach children and meet the broad set of needs in the classroom. Congress must give local school districts the tools and flexibility to ensure every child has the chance to succeed.

We are fortunate to have some of the finest colleges and universities in the nation right here on the Central Coast. They are drivers of innovation and success for our community. However, a traditional four-year college isn’t a necessity for all. High schools need to better evaluate students and prepare them for the workforce. Today, there must be alternatives for the workforce of tomorrow that emphasize vocational, technical and entrepreneurial training.

For those who do go to college, we need to address the cost of higher education and stop crippling the future generations with debt they can’t overcome. Student loan debt has become the second highest form of household debt Americans currently face — nearly 1.4 trillion dollars. Tuition costs have increased so fast that college is unaffordable for most families, leaving many to take on debt that they spend decades trying to repay.

For families of college bound children, Washington should work to expand the tax-free 529 Savings Program that encourages investments and savings rather than borrowing and incurring debt. Offering graduates opportunities to refinance their loans and also incentivizing businesses that employ individuals who carry student debt with tax deductions to help them pay down their debt also should be considered.

At the end of the day, the conversations we have around the kitchen table present concerns over our children’s future. Treating education as the foundation of our society is as important as the food we pray over. If we know it takes a village to raise a child and that the path to a great education starts in the home, we must stand together in this regard. Let’s present 21st century solutions that will have a positive outcome for all by helping parents and teachers decide which road facilitates future generations and our country as a whole to prosperity.