If we want our region, our state, and our nation to thrive in the coming decades, we need to educate and train our citizens for the jobs that will be available in the future.
A well-educated citizenry is essential for our nation’s continued prosperity. Without educated workers, our economy will stagnate, our standard of living will suffer, and this country will cease to be a world leader in research, technology, education, health care, and commerce. Consequently, I am a strong believer in federal support for education at all levels. I firmly believe that no American should be denied a college education as a result of financial need.
I believe that every American student is entitled to a good education and that we need to ensure we are providing it. I also believe that many schools have been failing their students for decades.
I believe that our schools must be held accountable for the quality of education they provide our children, and that the federal government has a corresponding obligation to provide local schools with the resources they need to meet any new demands that Congress imposes on them.
I voted in support of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 – but I am greatly concerned about the way the law has been implemented. I was extremely disappointed that President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress did not provide the money needed to meet the goals of the bill. I believe that it is terribly unfair to expect schools to meet the NCLBA standards without providing them with the resources the bill promised them. Moreover, I believe that the Bush Administration also poorly administered the No Child Left Behind Act.
When the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was signed into law by President Bush in 2001, we all hoped that it would improve our country’s elementary and secondary schools by giving the nation more information about student achievement, holding schools accountable for poor performance, and reducing the achievement gap. Since then, its many shortcomings have become clear too much testing (and teaching to the test), unrealistic performance goals, and a policy of punishing under-performing schools by cutting off them the resources they need to get better.
Congress completed work on a replacement for No Child Left Behind in 2015, and the final version of this legislation (S. 1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA), was approved with my support and signed into law by the President. The ESSA:
- Repeals NCLB’s “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) standards with a comprehensive state-designed system to hold schools accountable for student achievement;
- Continues to produce important information about student performance by requiring testing in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science tests three times between grades 3 and 12 but allows states and school districts to eliminate tests that don’t contribute to student learning.
- Eliminates NCLB’s one-size-fits-all requirements for under-performing schools and transfers the responsibility for identifying and improving under-performing schools to the states, which are simply required to use evidence-based methods to achieve those goals.
- Retains the current state “maintenance of effort” requirements that federal funding “supplement not supplant” state and local funds, but provides states with additional spending flexibility so long as it is used to target more funding to at-risk children.
- Seeks to improve teacher quality by providing resources for teacher recruitment and evidence-based education.
No bill is perfect, but the ESSA made such important, long-overdue changes in federal K-12 education programs that it deserved my support. I will continue to monitor the changes being made under ESSA and work to improve the education that children receive in our nation’s public schools.
The benefit to our country of federal higher education assistance extends far beyond the individuals who receive it. Everyone in our society benefits from the education that college and university students receive, regardless of whether that education is in medicine, engineering, law, foreign languages, anthropology, history, or some other field. The knowledge, skill, and analytical ability created with this assistance foster dramatic growth in our nation’s economy. Since more and more jobs in the future will require good education and advanced skills, we as a nation will have to improve the education and skill levels of our work force if we want to maintain and improve our standard of living.
Consequently, it makes sense that our government provides greater support for higher education. Millions of those students couldn’t undertake their studies without that assistance.
College tuition and fees have been rising more rapidly than household income for the past 2 decades. Tuition at colleges and universities has risen in recent years at double-digit annual rates –and at a time when inflation’s only been about 2 percent. Over the past decade, increases in tuition and fees have outstripped growth in per capita income by 40 percent – and inflation by more than 70 percent – making it more difficult for hundreds of thousands of qualified students to get the education they want and need.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the United States is no longer the leader among developed nations in college enrollment leading to a bachelor's degree in the last decade – or that the average cumulative federal student loan debt has nearly doubled for full-time students at four-year institutions over the last 10 years. Clearly, a lot of people will need more help paying for their education, and the only realistic source of such help is the federal government.
I understand what a serious problem it is that the level of federal assistance available to students has failed to keep pace with the rapid growth in higher education costs. Our nation can’t afford cuts – or even a freeze – in federal education assistance. I believe, rather, that we need substantial increases above current assistance levels.
Consequently, I voted in favor of HR 2669, The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, legislation boosting college aid by more than $20 billion dollars over the following five years. The bill was signed into law in September of 2007.
On May 15, 2008, I voted i n favor of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act a bill that expands the GI Bill’s education benefits to ensure that the men and women who have served in the armed forces since 9/11 will have the financial support they need to pursue higher education. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (Public Law 110-252), often referred to as the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the GI Bill for the 21st Century, provides up to 100 percent of the cost of an in-state four-year college education for up to 2 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including tuition assistance, a housing allowance, and a stipend for books and supplies. In addition, eligible veterans have the option to transfer these benefits to family members under certain circumstances.
I also voted for HR 4137, the Higher Education Opportunity Act, on February 7, 2008. This law (PL 110-315) established fairer practices in college tuition adjustment and lending in an effort to make college more affordable for everyone.
On March 25, 2010, I joined a majority of Representatives and Senators in approving legislation that included the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA).
SAFRA changed the way the nation’s student loan system works. Whereas in the past, the federal government guaranteed student loans offered by private lenders – essentially guaranteeing the lenders large profits and paying for their losses – the federal government now originates all new loans through its Direct Loan program and promotes competition among private lenders for the contracts to collect the interest and principal payments on those loans.
This change in the federal student loan system will save the federal government $61 billion over 10 years and make student loans more manageable for borrowers to repay. The new law uses those savings to expand access to an affordable college education for millions of American students (by increasing the maximum size of Pell Grants) and to strengthen our nation’s community colleges.
More needs to be done, however; that's why I’m a cosponsor of:
- HR 649 (the Student Loan Refinancing Act), which as its name suggests would change current law to allow borrowers under the old Federal Direct Loan Program to refinance their debt.
- HR 1260 (the American Opportunity Tax Credit Act), which would allow a federal income tax credit for up to $2,500 in tuition and other college expenses and allows an exclusion from gross income of any Federal Pell Grant money.
- HR 1434 (the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act), which would reduce monthly payments and help borrowers repay loans sooner by allowing borrowers to refinance their debt at lower interest rates.
I will continue to work to ensure evey American who qualifies for higher education can afford to pursue it.