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Public Statements

Congressional Black Caucus

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HORSFORD. To my colleague and dear friend, the Representative from the 8th Congressional District of New York, it's good to join you for this hour of power to talk directly to our constituents and the American people about the priorities that we're focused on here in the United States House of Representatives and that we hope our colleagues on the other side will join with us to advance.

Today, we bring to the focus of this body the need to invest in opportunity through education. A pathway to a college education is a pathway into the middle class.

And as a panel that was just convened, moderated by Wade Henderson, entitled, "For Each and Every Child,'' they indicated that, while a post-high school education is not an economic cure-all, it does provide a steppingstone to a good job and stable wages.

Now, every parent should be able to count on a good education for his or her children. As a father of three young children, I'm very focused on what my children need in the opportunities to advance in their lives and to be successful, as every parent is focused on, but, unfortunately, it is not always the case.

We need to refocus the conversation on educational opportunity, as my colleague, Mr. Jeffries, just indicated, and making sure that our children's future is not determined by a ZIP Code. Our schools should not be structured like a lottery system where some luck out and others strike out--to continue with your analogy, Mr. Jeffries.

Poor kids who are exceptional should be the norm, not the exception to the rule. They deserve the resources they need to be successful; and that's what we, on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, are bringing forward here today.

In order to fix what's wrong right now, we need to change the way we think about our schools, because it's not simply schools that teach our students; it's actually the entire community. It is a community effort.

In 2011, 78 percent of high school graduates from high-income families enrolled in college. The shares for middle- and low-income families were 63 and 55 percent, respectfully. We have to work to close this gap and open a pathway to college for all students.

Now, today, we will hear from our colleagues who share with this need to invest in education. We would like to talk about the particular issue that's affecting our Black men and boys in education. We want to focus on the need to grow more science and math majors. We know we need to invest in pre-K, and we want to outline our priorities as they compare to the Republican budget that's been offered by the other side.

And so as we enter into this hour of power to talk about education, I hope that we can cover these topics and others, and I look forward to this discussion.

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Mr. HORSFORD. I say thank you to my colleague from New York.

Before I elaborate further, let me say that first you have to understand that there is a problem in order to address the problem. I think far too often some of our colleagues on the other side fail to recognize the fact that so many families who are struggling to help their students obtain a college degree are having to do so through student loans and rely greatly on Pell Grants for that assistance. Maybe it's because they don't have that same experience that they don't understand why these are important.

This is what the House Republican budget would mean for those very programs that you're talking about. First, the Republican budget freezes the maximum Pell Grant for the next 10 years, even though Congress already enacted and paid for mandatory annual inflationary increases in 2010. With this one step, they slash higher education funding by $83 billion.

The House Republican budget allows the interest rate on need-based student loans to double this summer.

The House Republican budget eliminates the income-based repayment program, which provides that Federal student loan borrowers can cap their loan payments at 15 percent, going down to 10 percent in 2014 of their discretionary income each year.

The reason that this is so important is because of constituents like the ones I spoke to on Sunday in my district. We were talking about the immigration issue. But as we were discussing that, many of them came to me and said, Well, you know what? I've had to borrow $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 in student loans to acquire this degree, and I'm now working in the field I'm in, but unfortunately it's taking $1,000, $1,500, $2,000 a month of my income to pay back those student loans.

At the very time these families are struggling to do that, the Republican budget proposes to slash it further. Not only does it slash support for individuals and families who rely on student loans, as I said, they also freeze the maximum Pell Grant, which so many low-income families and students desperately depend on.

This is a real issue, and it's a real difference. That is why we are here today to bring attention to the differences between the two sides. I hope that as we move forward, we can find common ground.

Mr. Speaker, I want to say something, because sometimes I know when we talk about the needs of educating Black children, that people will say, What about other communities? My answer to that is that if we can help improve the education for Black children in America, we will improve education for all children in America, whether they be Latino or White or Asian.

And so that is why we need to have an investment in education in America, not to defund, not to slash, not to reduce or not to freeze funding, but to invest in the very things that we know work and that will improve the successes for young people to succeed in life.

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Mr. HORSFORD. Thank you, Representative Jeffries. And you provided the clear nexus.

While the Congressional Black Caucus, working with our colleagues from the Hispanic Caucus and the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, supports comprehensive immigration reform, including provisions that allow the best and the brightest from around the country to immigrate to the United States and to contribute to making our country great, we also believe that there should be investment here in the United States to educate those of us here for these careers in the 21st century.

Colleges and universities in our country will produce 3 million STEM majors in the next 10 years. Still, according to a 2012 report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, our economy will demand more students graduating with STEM degrees than we are currently providing.

So what can we do?

We need to increase funding in STEM education and follow the lead of many of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-serving institutions which are producing a greater share of students with STEM degrees.

Among HBCUs, currently, they produce about 19 percent of all STEM bachelor degrees, 38 percent of which are in the biological sciences, 31 percent in math, 35 percent in computer science, 34 percent in the physical sciences, and 22 percent in engineering.

Now, the Obama administration has requested more investment for STEM teachers and additional funds to expand effective models of teacher preparation to help train 10,000 STEM educators per year. That's what the President's budget proposes. Those are the same priorities, they are the right priorities, and they're the priorities that the Congressional Black Caucus agrees need to be supported by this Congress.

We need to invest in teachers that will train students for jobs in the 21st century. But let me be clear: you can't expect students to graduate with degrees in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology if we're not doing more to invest in pre-K and to help students start with a strong foundation. And that's why the President has a historic level of investment in his budget for early childhood education and pre-K.

We enroll most kids in this country at 5 or 6 years old. We should be starting them earlier; 50 years of research tell us that critical development and learning happen before the age of five. When schooling starts at kindergarten or first grade, it denies these young people chances to make the most of this critical period.

Fundamentally reforming our education system begins with high-quality pre-kindergarten programs. In my opinion, pre-kindergarten is an antidote for the achievement gap. In cases where our kindergarten teachers are getting kids who've had, in some cases, 2 years of early education, they're seeing that the achievement gap has stopped or been narrowed. That's why we need to invest in programs like Head Start so that we don't have to play catch-up later or deny these young, bright minds the opportunities to go into the fields of the 21st century.

So, Mr. Speaker, this is an and/also strategy, not an either/or. We believe that we can invest in both early childhood education, K-12 education and higher education, not cut, slash or deny these opportunities to America's children. These are our priorities, and it's what we'll continue to fight for for all of America's children.

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Mr. HORSFORD. Just to elaborate further on this point, education attainment is an economic imperative. Not only is it the investment in the individual that proves great dividends and a return on investment, but the failure to invest, based on the bottom line in red, for someone with less than a high school diploma the likelihood of them being unemployed is 14 percent. For those with a high school diploma who are unemployed, it's 9.4 percent. If you have a bachelor's degree, the unemployment rate drops in half, to 4.9 percent. And if you have a professional degree, the unemployment rate is 2.4 percent.

So the correlation is clear that with education attainment come economic prosperity, opportunity, and a return on investment that is good for that individual, their ability to provide for themselves and their family, and for our entire country.

And so, Mr. Speaker, when we talk about investment, we're not talking about investments in programs or systems. We're talking about investments in people. When we talk about Head Start, we're talking about 3- and 4-year-old children. When we talk about title 1 funding, we're talking about schools and children that are identified as having low-income needs and the disadvantaged. When we talk about funding for IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, we're talking about individuals. And the more that we can invest in the individuals in America, the greater return we will have in the productivity of that individual, their family, the community they live in. And that will make for a stronger America for all of us. That is what we are aspiring to accomplish in this 113th Congress.

We want to work with our colleagues on the other side. Where they can meet us in the middle to find solutions to make these investments, we look forward to working with them. But one thing we will not do is to slash, defund, or freeze the investment of the American children and the American family.

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