Ensuring that America’s students receive a quality education has long been a top priority for Bill, who strongly supports robust federal funding for educational programs at all ages. A strong education system is essential to assuring that our students become part of a skilled workforce prepared to compete in our increasing global economy. It is also one of our most basic commitments to our communities. Similarly, it is critical that we recognize and respect the dedicated role of teachers in impacting our children’s growth.
Bill’s advocacy for our students and teachers has been a hallmark of his entire career. As a member of the Massachusetts state legislature, he sponsored the law that created drug-free school zones and enforced the requirement of sprinklers in school facilities. Then, as District Attorney of Norfolk County, he initiated an anti-bullying prevention program that was ahead of its time and is still being used in classrooms across the county.
In Congress, Bill is a member of multiple caucuses that work to strengthen our education system and empower our students, including the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education Caucus, the Anti-Bullying Caucus, and the TRIO Caucus.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
The most effective way to secure our nation’s future prosperity is by investing in our children’s education – especially in their earliest years. Bill has long supported maintaining funding for early childhood education through the Head Start program. Head Start is a research-based, comprehensive child development and early education program for both lower-income children and their families. Research has found that children who attend Head Start enter school better prepared than lower-income children who do not attend the program. Ensuring that all children, regardless of cultural or socioeconomic background, have access to the quality education they need to succeed in the twenty-first century remains one of Bill’s highest priorities.
Bill has worked with determination to provide public schools with the necessary resources to maintain high levels of educational excellence and prepare our children for the emerging technologies of the 21st century.
It is also critical that students have a safe space in which to learn. As a member of Congress, Bill has continued the anti-bullying work he did as Norfolk County District Attorney and helped introduce the Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2011, a bill that would prohibit public school students from being discriminated against because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Similarly, we need to ensure our schools are equipped to educate students of all abilities. Bill has cosponsored the IDEA Full Funding Act, which would ensure funding increases for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Enacted in 1975 by Congress, IDEA required the goal that each student would receive 40% of the average per student spending for special education. However, that goal has never been met, and current funding is at just 16.1%.
As someone who has heard directly from students and parents about the challenges of paying for a college degree, Bill believes that investments in education are essential to rebuilding our economy, and has always been a strong advocate for our middle class families and their children. Due to rising tuition costs and a still-recovering economy, students and families in the Commonwealth are forced to borrow more than ever to finance their college education.
Access to Pell grants and other forms of federal financial aid are often the deciding factor in a student’s ability to further their education. The Pell Grant Program, which is considered the backbone of federal aid for students, grants financial aid to lower- and moderate-income students based on a formula that considers annual income and school cost, among other factors. This critical funding preserves financial aid for 9.7 million low- and moderate-income students whose ability to attain a higher education would otherwise be threatened. Bill strongly supports full funding of Pell grants as well as efforts to work with our local community colleges and four-year institutions to assist students in getting the resources that can help them transition to the job market.
To this end, he voted in favor and helped ensure passage of the Senate’s version of the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, which offers an improved approach for maintaining reasonable student loan interest rates. This bill immediately reduced interest rates for 11 million new borrowers in 2013 and provided students with up to $25 billion in debt relief over the next five years versus current law. By tying interest rates to 10-year Treasury note performance, the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act affords students lower rates when the economy is underperforming. This legislation also provides economic certainty to students by guaranteeing a uniform interest rate and cap over the lifetime of their loan.
Bill also cosponsored numerous pieces of critical education legislation that address the rising cost of higher education, such as the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act of 2015, America’s College Promise Act of 2015, the Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act, and the Empowering Students Through Educated Financial Counseling Act.
The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act of 2015 would allow borrowers struggling with high interest rates to refinance existing student loans in both the public and private markets to lower interest rates. This legislation provides borrowers the ability to refinance undergraduate student loans to an interest rate of 3.86 percent. Today, some student borrowers are locked into interest rates as high as 8 percent on their existing loans.
The America’s College Promise Act of 2015 makes two years of community college free and offers low-income students an affordable opportunity to earn a four-year college degree. Under the legislation, access to affordable higher education will give students the 21st century skills and knowledge they need to succeed in this economy.
The Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act allows students to use family income data from two years prior to the date of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. This process will help students apply for financial aid earlier so they can better prepare for their college costs. In September 2015, President Obama issued an Executive Order that students and families can use prior-prior year tax data when filling out the FAFSA. Beginning with the 2016-2017 FAFSA, students can apply three months earlier for federal college aid and use an older tax form (prior-prior year) for the purposes of calculating their student aid eligibility.
The Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act promotes financial literacy through enhanced counseling for all recipients (students and parents) of federal financial aid, including Pell Grants that reflects their individual borrowing situation before they accept their loan.
It is estimated that nearly one-fifth of children live in a household without enough food for their family to eat. Additionally, families that struggle to have enough food often have difficulty accessing healthy foods. Today, more than one-third of all children are overweight or obese.
More than ever, we must recognize the importance of providing children with nutritious meals at an early age in order to promote healthy eating habits for life. Bill is a strong supporter of federal child nutrition programs help to address this need by providing 32 million children with access to nutritious food.
He has consistently opposed efforts to undermine the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, which supports 46 million low-income Americans each month. SNAP provides children, senior citizens, and working adults alike with access to affordable and nutritious meals. In 2014 alone, the SNAP program is credited with raising more than 4.7 million people, including 2.1 million children, out of poverty.