Whether through career and technical education or the inclusion of the arts in STEM education, I am an advocate for innovative approaches to teaching our nation's children.
Our public education system is one of the foundations of our democracy. Investing in our children’s education not only has long-term benefits for our economy, but it also delivers on our nation’s promise to ensure that all individuals have an equal opportunity to succeed. I am deeply committed to improving our nation’s schools so that all children, regardless of the neighborhood in which they grow up, have the chance to achieve their full potential. It is imperative that we invest in education to promote new employment and ensure that students can adapt to the jobs that will grow our 21st century economy.
I believe we must invest in our students at every level, from early childhood education to postsecondary education. I support Rhode Island’s efforts to become a leader in preK-12 education, and I am proud that Rhode Island recently won a $2.3 million federal grant to expand enrollment in high-quality pre-K programs. As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind, I will work to ensure there is flexibility at the local level, a focus on rewarding schools instead of punishing them, and encouraging great leadership from both administrators and teachers. Finally, as the cost of higher education has soared in recent years, I continue my strong support of policies and programs, like Pell Grants, to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their background or economic status, have access to higher education.
In addition, I am working on initiatives in both Washington and Rhode Island to revamp our education system for the 21st Century.
Career and Technical Education
As a co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus with my colleague, Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA), I am working in Rhode Island and at the national level to highlight the importance of career and technical education in creating jobs, retraining workers, and ensuring that students of all ages are career- and college-ready. CTE programs play a vital role in creating skilled workers who are capable of remaining competitive in high-wage, high-skill, and high-demand career fields. These fields include STEM disciplines, nursing, allied health, construction, information technology, energy, cybersecurity, sustainability, and other areas that keep our nation competitive in the global economy.
Authorization for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the primary vehicle for federal funding of CTE, expired in 2012. It is time to re-authorize this bill to reflect the needs of the 21st Century workforce. Any re-authorization must include an increase in funding and expanded opportunities for employer-educator partnerships so students are able to gain in-demand skills directly from the workplace. While Congressman Thompson and I have fought for adequate Perkins funding in years past, there can be no substitute for a full re-authorization.
To help match workers with the skills they need, I will soon re-introduce the Counseling for Career Choice Act.This bipartisan bill would provide funds to help local educational agencies offer comprehensive counseling services to students so that they can make informed decisions about their future, whether they choose a four-year degree, a career and technical education program, a private-sector apprenticeship or another option.
In the summer of 2013, as a continuation of my long-running Rhode Island Skilled Economy (RISE) tour, I started the Classroom to Career Tour, focused on job training programs across the district that help youth develop the skills they need to succeed in in-demand careers. I also led a series of Back to School events in the fall of 2013 to focus attention on educational opportunities in Rhode Island and to observe progress at elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions.
Student loan debt is becoming an ever-increasing burden on our students, graduates and their families. On July 1, 2013, the interest rate for federal student loans doubled from 3.4% to 6.8% with the expiration of the previously-extended College Cost Reduction Act. That same month, Congress passed a compromise to tie student loan interest rates to the 10-year Treasury Note, plus 2.05% for undergraduate loans, 3.6% for graduate loans, and 4.6% for Parent PLUS loans. These loans are capped at 8.25%, 9.5% and 10.5%, respectively. I am also pleased that the bill required a study to determine the overall cost of the student loan program - although the results are sobering. Due to the variability of the federal interest rate, it is impossible to predict whether or not the program will be revenue neutral in the coming years. I will continue to monitor student loan rates and work with my colleagues to ensure the government does not profit off of college students.
STEM to STEAM
Art and design programs are an essential component of a well-rounded curriculum and play an integral role in improving student achievement and advancing the understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning and collaboration. Along with the Rhode Island School of Design, I hosted STEM to STEAM briefings in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. to discuss the importance of integrating art and design into our country’s education system and efforts to maintain global leadership in technological innovation. I also introduced H.Res. 51, a resolution that encourages federal agencies to facilitate a comprehensive approach to incorporate art and design into federal STEM programs. For more information on this initiative, please visit www.stemtosteam.org.
Funding STEM Programs
Along with my colleague Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH), I will soon be reintroducing the Innovation Inspiration School Grant Program, which would establish a grant process for schools to fund alternative STEM programs. The bill would increase access to non-traditional efforts needed to complement regular classroom activity to better engage students in these subject areas and help them with the practical application of their studies. Grants would be available to ensure teachers can access hands-on training, as well as to allow instruction outside of school hours. In addition, resources can be put toward partnering with business and industry to support participation in nonprofit STEM competition.
I have also sponsored Stepping UP to STEM Act. This legislation aims to establish an Office of STEM Education within the Department of Education while providing grant funding to outside entities to develop additional education technology innovations. The jobs of the coming decades – whether in healthcare, manufacturing, small business or any other field – will require a working knowledge of the STEM disciplines. Even if a four-year college is not in a student’s plan, excellence in science, engineering, math, and technology courses will better prepare him or her for the job market.
In 2014, I was proud to help host the inaugural season of the House STEM Competition. With an estimated 8.5 million STEM jobs projected by 2018, it is vital to build enthusiasm and competence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.