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We Have a Problem

An investment in equity in education is an investment in creating jobs. It is an investment in fighting the drug war. It is an investment in moving our country forward. It is an investment in America's comeback.
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Drugs have permeated our school system. Schools are no longer a place where all students want to go to, nor are they the safe haven that they were always meant to be. Until all schools are treated and funded comparably, the student drug crisis will continue to cripple our already struggling education system.

Ninety percent of American high school students report that some of their classmates are using illicit drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, during the school day, according to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse's 17th annual "back-to-school survey." The survey discovered that roughly half of America's students knew classmates who sold drugs and knew nearby "high spots" or places to drink during the day.

America: We have a problem.

The presidential candidates are focusing on creating jobs, jobs, jobs, while only four percent of those 25 and over with a bachelor's degree are unemployed. Despite this, many students are focusing on drugs, drugs, drugs and, for some, using and finding drugs is part of why they go to school. Undoubtedly, it would be wise of our presidential candidates to focus on salvaging our struggling education system.

Said Windham, Ohio resident and Ohio Virtual Academy graduate, Jabreel Chisley, "I enrolled at OHVA to avoid the hostile environment in local schools, which strongly revolved around drug use." Chisley's sister, who goes to school in a low socioeconomic status (SES) community, was not so lucky. At her school, Chisley said "students go to school to get high."

A Boston-area student also reaffirmed the aforementioned study's findings. Although in the minority at her private school, she said, "While I didn't go to school with the intention of using -- it didn't have anything to do with school itself -- it's that I used no matter where I was." She blamed much of her drug use on her school's high stakes testing culture, which she said also boasts a founding principle that students should be able to graduate high school in less than four years if they work hard.

This pressure-filled school atmosphere is harmful and widespread.

Said a high-SES student from a top performing Long Island high school, "Although buying, selling, and using drugs is not widespread, school provides students with a venue to do so." He added, "During my high school years, I have seen multiple drug deals take place in school." The root of this phenomenon, he believes, is the stress of the overly competitive climate.

The high stakes testing culture in middle- and upper-class schools is undeniably cultivating drug use amongst students. And the failure of schools in low-SES communities to provide a safe haven for students is allowing this drug culture to run rampant.

Charles Peralo, a graduate of Monticello High School in Monticello, New York, provides us with a unique perspective, having attended both a private school and a low-SES public school. Peralo said that he saw "way more drugs in private school." In the low-SES community, he unsurprisingly found "poverty and household problems" to be a motivating factor in provoking drug use.

What we can surmise from the statements of these students is that although not commonplace amongst all students, this epidemic is undoubtedly prevalent in schools nationwide.

In fact, the aforementioned survey complements the responses from my student interviewees, as it also says 17 percent of students have actually used drugs during the school day.

While the border can be viewed as the main culprit of this youth drug crisis, we are best-off looking right here in America to find the genesis of this epidemic. It lies in our high-stakes testing culture and it is directly tied to the war on poverty.

If Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are committed to creating jobs, they should heed advice from the father of our public education system, Horace Mann, who believed that education should be the "great equalizer." Test scores do not equate to learning and firing teachers does not equate to accountability. The focus must be on equity.

An investment in equity in education is an investment in creating jobs. It is an investment in fighting the drug war. It is an investment in moving our country forward. It is an investment in America's comeback.

This is a nonpartisan issue. This is about the young people. This is about our country's future.

The greatest drug is our ignorance of today's problems by believing that they can be solved tomorrow.

Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney, please focus on equity. Let's clean up our schools. School should be a place to learn, not a place to buy, use and deal.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.

HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at America's failed war on drugs August 28th and September 4th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.

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