Education is the key to future individual success and a strong economy. We must work to expand educational opportunities for all students in Illinois and throughout the nation. The future of our country depends on the education we provide to our children today.
Access to a quality education—from pre-Kindergarten through higher education—should not be a luxury only for the wealthy. The cost of higher education has increased dramatically in recent decades, and student debt has tripled over the last decade. This debt often destroys personal financial security and threatens national economic growth as young people put off buying cars and homes, starting families and businesses, and saving for retirement.
I am working to ensure that all students, regardless of their economic status, receive a quality college education that will help them get ahead without saddling them with a mountain of debt. I have fought for legislation to maintain affordable federal student loan rates; increase access to free and open textbooks; investigate the deceptive practices of many for-profit colleges; and encourage our best and brightest students to choose a profession in public service. I will continue to focus on making a quality education accessible and affordable to all.
Borrowing has long been part of the financial equation to pay for college for low and middle income students. A strong federal student loan program allows millions of Americans to invest in their futures – taking on reasonable debt in return for an education that leads to a good paying job that allow them to repay their loans.
Unfortunately, the rising costs of college and bad actors like for-profit colleges mean that students are taking out more loans than they can often even fathom, let alone ever hope to repay. Student loan debt has tripled over the last decade. Students and families are struggling to pay these costs. This debt often destroys personal financial security and threatens national economic growth as young people put off buying cars and homes, starting businesses, and saving for retirement.
I am working to ensure that all students, regardless of their economic status, can receive a quality college education that will help them get ahead without saddling them with a mountain of debt. I have supported raising the maximum Pell Grant award. But increasing federal financial aid to students will be irrelevant if the cost of college continues to outpace those gains. In addition to skyrocketing tuition, students are being asked to pay hundreds of dollars for textbooks. I have authored provisions, now law, that provides students more information about the costs of educational materials and legislation that would expand the use of free, open textbooks.
We also have to do more to help students repay the debt they take on in the course of seeking an education. In 2013, I brokered a bipartisan deal that cut student loan interest rates for everyone and prevented what would have been a doubling of interest rates for undergraduates. I support proposals to allow students to refinance their loans to take advantage of lower interest rates. I have led an effort to overturn a 2005 change in the law that prohibits students from discharging private student loans during bankruptcy – one of the only forms of personal debt that cannot be discharged. Finally, I am fighting to provide stronger, borrower-friendly standards for federal and private student loan servicers. My Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights would ensure basic protections and access to information for all student loan borrowers.
Unlike traditional public or private colleges and universities, for-profit schools exist primarily to make money for their owners or shareholders. Their degrees are often not recognized by prospective employers and, despite their promises—often conveyed in flashy commercials and ads—many do not adequately prepare students for gainful employment. On average, for-profit schools cost more and leave their students with almost twice the debt burden as public schools.
Only ten percent of college students attend for-profit schools, but they take in more than 20 percent of all federal financial aid dollars and account for 46 percent of all federal student loan defaults. Many of these schools have been found to engage in deceptive, fraudulent, or misleading practices to exploit students and gain access to federal funding. In fact, several of the largest for-profit companies are now being investigated by one or more federal agencies and nearly a quarter of State Attorneys General are investigating at least one major company.
We have to do more to protect students and taxpayers from these schools. I have authored legislation to improve oversight of for-profit colleges and to provide better information to parents and students about which ones to avoid.
We also must fix a loophole that encourages for-profit schools to target veterans and servicemembers. Currently, for-profits can receive up to 90 percent of their revenue from federal funding, but G.I. Bill and Department of Defense tuition assistance is not counted – incentivizing schools to recruit these students. I will continue to speak out about the abuses of this industry.
Pre-school children who receive early education are more prepared for school than other children the same age who haven’t been in school. Programs like Head Start and Early Head Start provide children the chance to be in school during the earliest years of development, regardless of the income bracket of their parents. Every child in America should have access to a Pre-K education.
I will continue to fight for more funding at the federal level for programs that help children and families in Illinois and nationwide prepare for kindergarten, so that they are ready to learn when school starts.
High-quality teachers can be the single most important factor in securing a good education. It can take several years for a student to make up for lost educational gains after one year in a classroom with a poor-quality instructor. If we want to improve public education, we need to focus on recruiting and retaining strong teachers, especially in high-need schools and critical subject areas such as science, math, and special education. Federal public service loan forgiveness is a key component to ensuring highly qualified individuals can afford to enter into critical, though often low-paying, jobs like teaching.
In 1975, Congress passed an early version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which requires all public schools to accept and educate children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. This historic law recognizes our obligation to educate all children.
The next step is to provide schools with the resources they need to meet this goal. The federal government has never fully funded IDEA. We cannot expect schools to provide the quality services IDEA asks of them if they do not have the resources they need. I will continue to advocate for a free and appropriate public education for all children, and I will work for full funding of the law.