As a teacher, I’ve seen firsthand the power of education to transform lives. As a lawmaker, I understand the potential for education to provide the foundation for lasting economic growth.
We must make the necessary investments in education – from pre-kindergarten through college and beyond – and we must sustain these investments for the long haul. We must also staunchly oppose those who would take money out of our public schools in the form of vouchers.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, America’s commitment to free, public education for all of its citizens helped us grow into the world’s most prosperous and successful nation.
Now, in the 21st century, we are discovering that it is not enough to guarantee students access to schools when they reach kindergarten. By that age, many students – especially those from poor or underprivileged families – are already behind, and they have little chance of catching up.
If we are to ensure every child a fair shot in life, we must provide free public education beginning with pre-kindergarten. This is the right thing to do for our children, and it is the right thing to do for our economy.
Math and science should be part of everyone’s education. This is true in part because the jobs of the future will demand high-level skills in math and science – but just as importantly, the ability to “think like a scientist” is vital to workers in any field. Our nation and our economy is stronger when more people can pose questions so that they can be answered by experiments, can work comfortably with statistics, can employ statistical reasoning, and can draw conclusions from uncertain data.
More than a decade ago, I served on the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century – better known as the John Glenn Commission, after our chairman. The Commission made numerous recommendations, including increasing the number of math and science teachers and creating new opportunities for professional development. We called our final report “Before It’s Too Late” – which makes it ironic and troubling that, 12 years later, Congress still has not fully embraced our recommendations.
The good news is, it’s still not too late. In the U.S. Senate, I’ll fight to implement the Glenn Commission’s recommendations and to strengthen math and science education in public schools.
A few years ago, I helped write the College Cost Reduction Act, which cut in half the interest rate on federal Stafford loans from 6.8 to 3.4 percent.
This was a major step in the right direction, one that saved the typical student borrower more than a thousand dollars over the life of his or her loan. But as college costs continue to skyrocket, it’s clear that the College Cost Reduction Act was not enough. Students who are forced to borrow $20,000 or $40,000 or more to get through college will face an enormous financial burden – no matter how low the interest rate they are charged.
To make college more affordable, we must take more dramatic action. We must double the maximum Pell Grant from $5,550 to $11,100. This will restore the Pell Grant to its historic place as a major contributor to the cost of college, it will place a college degree within the reach of many more American students, and it will ensure that America’s workforce remains the most educated and innovative in the world.