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Op-Ed - Investing in Education

Op-Ed

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A well-educated workforce is critical for regaining America's long-term competitive advantage. This includes not only the higher education that will be necessary for global competitiveness, but also the solid foundation of a strong K-12 education. I have often said that there are no shortcuts to regaining our competitive advantage, so at this moment, while we recover from our current economic downturn, we know that we must be providing educational opportunities that will prepare our current and future workforce for the jobs of tomorrow.

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Congress took action to keep over 160,000 teachers in our classrooms across the country. As we came to the beginning of a new school year, we knew this was no time to be expanding class sizes and putting hard working teachers out of a job. Here in the Fifth District, the federal aid will fund 439 teaching positions in our communities. This package of aid to states and localities was no "teacher bailout" as some have called it. It was simply a recognition that investments in education are crucial to economic recovery and pay dividends. The bill was fully paid for in part by closing the tax loopholes that had encouraged companies to send U.S. jobs overseas. I had been leading the fight to close those ridiculous loopholes and was very glad to finally see that long overdue victory for American workers.

I have also been a vocal proponent for rethinking the way that we define success in education. For far too long the paradigm has been to steer every child towards college regardless of their interests or preparedness for that environment. We have been ignoring our students who may want to go learn a trade and enter the workforce immediately. I have seen encouraging signs on the local and state level of reemphasizing the dignity and value of a trade and technical education. This is very evident as the Virginia Technical Institute opens its doors in Altavista this week. Local businessman Dale Moore is going to give young people a chance to get the skills and technical training they need to enter the workforce making $18-20/hour instead of minimum wage. It is also going to give displaced workers an opportunity to improve their skill set and move into the middle class.

I have also been working to ensure that our veterans have access to educational opportunities that work for them. We have over 250,000 veterans currently enrolled in four year colleges and universities thanks to the new G.I. bill. But because of the changing demographics of our armed forces, I feel that it's important to offer opportunities to use G.I. benefits for trade and technical education. While our Vietnam-era fighting force was largely comprised of young, single men, we now have men and women in uniform who are older, may have a family, and may not be in a place where where a four year college meets their needs.

Finally, the high cost of education is a continuing challenge to middle class families. While families are losing income and benefits, college tuition prices continue to rise. The average student now graduates with over $22,000 in total student debt, including federal and private student loans. This year, Congress enacted the largest overhaul of student loans in a generation. We made important changes in the way that students repay their loans and eliminated the middle men that were costing students and the government money. We also have many students who are interested in entering public service but feel compelled to take higher paying jobs in order to pay down debt. Because of our reforms, we will ease the debt burden on those students and encourage them to go into teaching, nursing, or the military.


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