To fix student loans, respect education

The House Republican majority recently passed a budget that deeply slashes Pell Grants for nearly 10 million college students and allows student loan interest rates to double in July.


The bullying epidemic: What’s next

In 2012, more than 13 million children will be teased, taunted and physically assaulted by their peers, making bullying the most common form of violence our nation’s youth experience this year.


Debate on student loan debt doesn't go far enough

As Congress debates the extremely narrow issue of whether to extend the current 3.4% interest rate on Federal Student Loans, or to let that rate expire and, thus, double to its previous level of 6.8%, both sides of the aisle are missing an opportunity to do something unique, decisive and bold: adopt legislation that forgives excessive student loan debt after a reasonable repayment period.

Representative Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) introduced an unprecedented piece of legislation in March - H.R. 4170, The Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012, in response to over 660,000 people who signed a petition I started in favor of student loan forgiveness. Yet, despite the public outcry, only one member initially stepped up to put his name and reputation on the line in order to draw attention to the ever-growing crisis of student loan debt.  Rep. Clarke has taken on the role of Champion for the educated poor – the 36 million Americans who are drowning under the weight of their student loan debts. A new petition I started in favor of H.R. 4170 currently has over 939,000 signatures.


Stop short-changing our most gifted children

When it comes to important issues that are often overlooked by elected officials and political candidates, the nation’s commitment – or lack thereof – to developing our most talented minds is the poster child.
Conventional wisdom holds that the presidential election will be won or lost largely on the state of the economy. But while current economic sentiment is rightfully important, it is a disservice to the electorate and our future vitality and prosperity to ignore that we have no strategy, plan or system to develop our most promising talent.
If any candidate is looking for a sign of the consequences from neglecting this issue, the mothballing of the nation’s once storied space shuttle fleet should provide convincing evidence.
The shuttle’s scuttle means that the United States, which a half-century ago won the space race by landing men on the moon a mere eight years after committing itself to the cause, has, for the foreseeable future, no means to travel into space without an assist from our past arch-rivals.
How did we get here?


Rebuilding the foundation of American competitiveness

As our nation continues to recover from the financial crisis, one question stands above the others: Can we rebuild an economic foundation stronger than the one that existed before?
If we’re willing to truly invest in the next generation of Americans, making sure they have the competency-based education and skills training they need to compete in a 21st century global economy, the answer is yes.
Across the country and around the world, committed community leaders, non-profits, educators, and students have dedicated themselves to finding solutions to these challenges. But we have a lot more work to do, and it will take federal policymakers coming together around bipartisan priorities to make it a reality. It will take leaders who are able to see beyond the next election to a horizon in which our children and grandchildren occupy the largest, most competitive, worldwide job market ever.


Helping our students thrive in a high-tech environment

Last month, President Obama hosted the White House Science Fair to celebrate students from across America who excel in the study of science, technology, engineering and math. One of those students was a constituent of mine, Angela Zhang, an emerging pioneer in the fields of nanotechnology and cancer treatment, from Cupertino, California.

While Angela and her peers were wowing our nation’s 44th chief executive with their imagination and industry, the details of the President’s Council of Advisers in Science and Technology (PCAST) emerged. America needs 1 million additional graduates with STEM degrees over the next decade to fill the growing number of jobs that require these skills.


Secretary Duncan: Mission not yet accomplished

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will testify this Wednesday before the House Education and Workforce Committee on his department’s budget. He spoke to The Hill’s comment editor, Emmanuel Touhey, about his priorities and his political future. Here’s an edited excerpt of that interview.

Q: “We can’t wait” has become a mantra with this administration. How did it get to this point as it relates to education?

Well, unfortunately, when you have a Congress that isn’t working well together you either just sort of stay on the sidelines and stop working or you just keep trying to get things done. And No Child Left Behind has been broken for a long time, and we desperately wanted Congress to fix it and to fix it in a bipartisan way … but that didn’t happen, so we had the flexibility to go out and partner directly with states. When we were thinking about this I called 45, 46 governors from across the political spectrum. Every single one said go forward, every single one said “thank goodness someone in Washington is paying attention,” and we’ve provided relief flexibility to 11 states already. We have 27 who we’re reviewing this week.


It's time to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Even as we have seen some promising jobs indicators in recent months, we are still at an extraordinarily delicate time for our economy. In the wake of the recent recession, millions of American families are struggling to put food on the table, send their children to college, and hold on to their homes. The last thing these families need right now is to face rising prices at the pump. To lower gas prices and help both American consumers and the American economy get back on their feet, I strongly urge the president to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as soon as possible.
Since Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz at the end of December, gas prices have gone up 57 cents. These high oil prices affect every aspect of Americans’ lives – Not just the cost of traveling, but of heating homes, food and other purchases. In fact, the cost of everything goes up, further extending family budgets already stretched to the limit and threatening to derail the prospects for economic recovery.


Removing bureaucratic barriers to higher education

As a parent of three sons, I understand the importance of ensuring our children have access to higher education and are properly prepared to enter into the workforce. I often hear from local employers about their evolving needs for a more educated and skilled workforce. To meet those goals, our post-secondary educational system strives to give students access to a higher education that teaches the core fundamentals needed to succeed while also having the flexibility to meet the demands of employers.
In 2010 the Department of Education expanded its authority by imposing two new regulations: state authorization requirements and a new credit-hour definition. These federal government imposed regulations will significantly alter the role in accrediting and licensing institutions of higher education, as well as, significantly limit student access and the ability of these programs to be innovative.


Federal regulations are stifling higher education

The last place we need the federal government is in our classrooms. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly clear that President Obama’s Department of Education is intent on imposing its will on our institutions of learning, whether K-12 or higher education. Like many 9th-district residents, I believe education is a state and local issue. The federal government can play a supporting role in education, but the issue is best left to state and local officials.

For months, I have been challenging the U.S. Department of Education’s lack of understanding when it comes to the impact of a costly federal accounting requirement on Missouri career and technical schools when applying for Title IV funds. This federal regulation, which conflicts with existing state standards, has been in place since 1997. The regulation requires postsecondary education institutions to submit annual financial statements to the U.S. Department of Education prepared on an accrual basis. 

For years, the U.S. Department of Education has allowed Missouri career centers to continue to operate under its current reporting system - cash accounting - because Missouri allows school districts to adopt any comprehensive basis of accounting. Missouri is unique from many states in that many of its career centers are part of local school districts. There are at least 32 vocational technical schools in Missouri that currently participate in the Title IV programs and are affiliated with local school districts. Over 90 percent of Missouri schools, regularly subjected to audits, use cash accounting. For most schools, many of which are rural, changing an entire school district’s accounting system for one affiliated career center necessitates an expense that many school districts simply cannot afford. This means career center programs will close down.