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.  


State flexibility necessary in education reform

My focus in Congress continues to be on creating jobs and growing our economy. Ultimately, doing this starts with creating an education system that gives Americans the tools they need to get jobs in the global economy.
Improving our nation’s education system is critical to securing a successful future for our children and grandchildren. Last week, the House Education and the Workforce Committee, of which I am a member, began considering changes to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law for the first time in over a decade. H.R. 3989, the Student Success Act, and H.R. 3990, the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, will raise the standard in public education, return crucial decision-making authority to the states, and ensure that the unique needs of every student are being met.
Since NCLB was signed into law 10 years ago, Tennessee and its educators have done their best to provide a quality education to all students. While NCLB addressed some shortcomings in the education system, it opened up a whole new set of problems that simply haven’t been addressed. On February 9, 2012, Tennessee was granted a waiver providing greater state and local flexibility from standards within NCLB. While this waiver will help Tennessee’s education system in the short-term, I am concerned that – rather than working with Congress to fix the problems in our education system permanently – the administration is trying to have states pass their agenda through the backdoor.


A legacy of giving our children a Head Start

As we reflect on how U.S. presidents have influenced the course of our national life, their consistent support for serving at-risk children exemplifies the true American spirit.
For more than 45 years, presidents have recognized the value of investing in our most vulnerable children by supporting the Head Start vision.  Established by President Johnson in 1965 to tackle the achievement gap among low-income children, Head Start served 560,000 children in its first summer. Johnson said of Head Start’s first success that it was a symbol “of this nation’s commitment to the goal that no American Child shall be condemned to failure by accident of birth.” Since then, Head Start has launched more than 27 million young lives onto a pathway to success and now serves nearly one million children each year.


GOP can learn from the Gipper on education

Ronald Reagan did not believe that Washington could do much to solve our nation’s most pressing social problems. Except, it seems, when it came to education. The Great Gipper was among the first to understand the scope of our nation’s education crisis, and his administration pushed for the federal government to take a bigger role in making sure that all students achieved at high levels. And if today’s GOP really wants to improve our public education system, they should take note.
To be sure, when Reagan first ran for office in 1980, he sounded a lot like today’s Republican party on education issues. Reagan promised to roll back the federal role in education and abolish the Department of Education, calling the agency “President Carter’s new bureaucratic boondoggle.”
But soon after coming into office, Reagan almost completely switched his position. The reason was simple: In 1984, a federal commission released “A Nation at Risk,” a scathing report that documented the failure of our education system.


President Obama’s discussion of college costs is timely but needs to be expanded

President Obama’s State of the Union address and his speech at the University of Michigan made broad sweeping comments about education and the issue of rising college costs. As Chairwoman of the Higher Education Subcommittee, I share his concern about exploding college costs and the burden of student loans. 

According to the College Board, tuition and fees have spiked over the last decade. In-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities rose approximately 72 percent since 2001, at public two-year institutions of higher education by 45 percent and private four-year institutions by 29 percent. Over the same period of time, the rate of inflation was approximately 27 percent. Obviously, there is a big gap between inflation and these rising costs; consumers want to know why.  


College debt threatens the hopes and dreams of minority students

Our country is facing a perfect storm of rising college costs, student debt and growing inequality.  While the costs will be significant for an entire generation of students, they will be particularly high for Black and Hispanic graduates struggling to create a more prosperous future.

Here’s why:

The odds of paying off college debt are much tougher for minority graduates, particularly Black men, who face far higher unemployment than their White counterparts. More than 25 percent of Black men younger than 24 with college degrees were unemployed last year, about the same rate as young Black men who were college dropouts.  

Before the recession Black male high school graduates were more likely to be employed than current Black male college grads, according to Andrew Sum, director of the center for labor market studies at Northeastern University.


Want economic growth? Invest in education.

Many challenges our nation is currently facing can be overcome in the long-term by providing a better education and more opportunities for our children. Quality education directly impacts economic growth. We need a successful education infrastructure that creates a strong foundation in order to ensure the future success of our nation. 

We must invest in early childhood education and other successful education programs like distance-learning in Tennessee – a project led by the Niswonger Foundation.  The distance-learning program is creating new opportunities and developing new skills for students in Tennessee that they might not have otherwise been able to receive.
A high-quality education is critical for a child’s future no matter what country they grow up in. While in Afghanistan, one of the most incredible stories I heard was about children asking soldiers for pencils because those who attend school are considered a higher status.  It was an admirable thing to see that the Afghani children are hungry to learn and gain an education.


Building a human infrastructure

Have you ever considered education as a critical part of our nation’s infrastructure? We hear a lot about our decaying roads and bridges and the need to provide money and jobs to make improvements. We pay attention to this because an unsafe bridge or a large pothole is difficult to ignore. While spending money on roads, bridges, and power grids is necessary, it is also critical in 2011 for the United States to re-build our human infrastructure. This is how a stronger economy and society will ultimately emerge.

A strong human infrastructure needs to be based around education. The challenges facing education are much less obvious than a gaping pothole, but just as dangerous to the well-being of our nation. In 2011, we are a nation at risk as a result of policies that perpetuate a system of educational haves and have nots. It is no secret that the number of persons slipping into poverty has increased in the United States. It is also no secret that our country is challenged with high school drop-out rates and high unemployment.

As a nation, we are struggling to educate, motivate, and graduate sufficient numbers of students to meet our current and projected labor force requirements. These problems are complex and do not have simple solutions. However, every indicator that I look at points to education as the only proven path out of poverty and is the leading indicator in achieving social success as well.


Protect children with disabilities from school violence

Landon K., a 6-year-old boy with autism, was in first grade in a Mississippi elementary school when the 300-pound assistant principal picked up an inch-thick paddle and started hitting Landon on the buttocks. His grandmother, Jacquelyn K., told me: “My child just lost it ... he was screaming and hollering ... it just devastated him.”
The fact is that children with disabilities -- including children with autism, children in wheelchairs, and children with learning disorders -- face routine violence in schools at higher rates than their peers. Students with disabilities, only 14 percent of all students nationwide, make up 19 percent of those who suffer corporal punishment.