Education Is Key To Stronger America

Wednesday, June 20 2012 15:51 | Written by U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel

I recently hosted an education event in which I invited Martha J. Kanter, Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and Dennis M. Walcott, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, at Frederick Douglass Academy, my alma mater, in Harlem.

The focus of the event was to inform students on various resources to make college a reality. I know firsthand that an education is invaluable and can open doors of opportunity.  With the aid of the G.I. Bill, I earned degrees from New York University and St. John's University Law School and began my career in public service.  Education is the key to a brighter future, not just for individuals, but for the country as a whole.

Unfortunately rising costs of tuition and higher living costs make college less affordable and add to the $1 trillion dollar student loan debt. With a stand-off in Congress where Republicans are forcing Democrats to choose between healthcare and lowering Stafford loan interest rates, students may be forced to repay loans at 6.8% interest -- twice the current rate. This will require some students to pay thousands more each year in order to finance a better future. Where a better trained workforce is critical to a stronger U.S. economy, now is not the time to place hurdles in the way of college accessibility.

The passage of the DREAM Act will further strengthen our workforce and improve the college education rate by allowing undocumented students to pursue higher education. This bill would enable children of illegal immigrants to gain permanent residency by attending college for two years or serving in the military for two years. This will enable as many as 65,000 high school graduates to go to college each year which could result in a $1.4 billion decrease in the deficit while increasing revenues by $2 billion because of the expected tax contributions by these additional students over the next 10 years. Persons who are undocumented often illegally hold employment and risk legal penalties such as arrest and repatriation. In contrast, college educated individuals make higher contributions to society in terms of taxes, spending in the economy, and giving back to communities. Therefore passing the DREAM Act is a better option than to close the door on undocumented students -- fostering talent is better than spending funds on jailing and deportation.

Given the importance of education, it is counterintuitive that we spend more money on putting people behind bars than we do on our students. Each year, New York State spends $56,000 per person incarcerated, $40,000 more than what is spent on each student.  It costs more to incarcerate than to rehabilitate and educate an inmate. My Second Chance for Ex-Offenders bill seeks to help rehabilitate and give non-violent offenders a chance to obtain better employment and education thereby freeing up money tied in the jail system to be spent on the children.

K-12 schools and programs are not getting the level of support required. In New York City there is a proposal to cut almost 200 afterschool programs in order to alleviate the budget. This will neglect thousands of students and families that depend on afterschool services. We are selling ourselves short by failing to invest in our future leaders.

It is important to invest in our students early in the education process. That is why I sponsored the Rebuilding America's Schools Act which will allocate $11 billion for various school construction projects and allow schools to borrow money at little to no interest. Schools must have adequate funding in order to support certain operational or expansionary investments. Schools can then better serve students by providing higher quality environments for learning. For example, Harlem's Democracy Prep Public School, where students receive rigorous training in a safe environment, and the Harlem Children's Zone, known for its top notch facilities and teachers, are great examples of what our education system could look like with proper support.

At a time when education is vital to compete in the global economy, it makes no sense that Republicans are attempting to cut funding for education and are campaigning on the idea of getting rid of the U.S. Department of Education altogether. A better trained workforce will produce a stronger economy which will help decrease the unemployment rate. Getting rid of the Department of Education, failing to fund and support our schools and programs, making college less accessible or closing the door on children of immigrant families will not lead us to a prosperous America. Investing in education means investing in our great country's future.

U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel

U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel

The Honorable Charles B. Rangel is serving his 22nd term as the Representative from the 13th Congressional District, which stretches from upper Manhattan to northwest Bronx. A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, he made history as the first African American member of Congress to lead the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He is a member of the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Website: www.rangel.house.gov

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