By Dennis Romboy
U.S. Senate candidate Scott Howell says a vote for him is a vote to ensure quality education for young people who then could compete in a global economy.
And the former Democratic state Senate minority leader said that is best accomplished through collaboration.
"Education is not Democrat versus Republican," he said Wednesday at a news conference at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "It's about doing the right things for the right reason for our kids."
Howell, who is challenging six-term GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, said Congress could vote to roll back education funding to 2003 levels starting in January.
"Orrin has voted the opposite way I would vote" on education issues, he said.
Howell said Hatch's votes on education would eliminate $170 billion from Pell grant funding and double the Stafford loan interest rate for low- and middle-income college students to 6.8 percent.
Hatch spokeswoman Heather Barney said Howell's statement is inaccurate. The senator, she said, supports Pell grants and favored a proposal to extend them but without a "massive, job-killing tax hike" on families and small businesses included in a Democratic bill. Hatch would pay to extend Pell grants by "axing Obamacare slush funds," she said.
"Unfortunately, Scott Howell's comments show how out of touch he is with the majority of Utahns," Barney said.
Howell said he looks forward to debating Hatch on education issues.
Rising tuition costs are putting college out of reach for qualified students and leaving others and their parents with crippling debt, Howell said. Further cuts, he said, would unfairly punish low- and middle-class families trying to get an education.
"I strongly support extending current student loan interest rates and increasing the college tuition tax credit for students and their families," he said.
Howell, who has been endorsed by the National Education Association and the Utah Education Association, also said bringing technology to the classroom is key to the future success of students.
"The chalkboards are no longer cutting it," he said. "We've got to adapt education at every level to this new paradigm to keep our kids competitive. Affordability of technology has to be at the forefront of everything we do."
Howell also said he supports the Salt Lake Chamber's Prosperity 2020 program, an effort by educators, legislators and business and community leaders to find solutions to education challenges.