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Cantwell Calls for New Direction in Education: Affordable Higher Education for Every American

Location: Washington, DC

Cantwell Calls for New Direction in Education: Affordable Higher Education for Every American

Wednesday, June 21,2006

WASHINGTON, DC - Wednesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) delivered the following remarks on education in America and the importance of investing in affordable, accessible higher education. Cantwell spoke alongside fellow democratic women senators at an event announcing their "Checklist for Change"—a challenge to the administration and the Republican-led Congress to take immediate action on an agenda that works for all Americans. Wednesday evening, Cantwell will join the eight other democratic women senators on CNN's Larry King Live to discuss their "Checklist for Change."

In her remarks, Cantwell urged the swift passage of her legislation to increase by an average of $3,000 the tax benefits for families saving money for their children's education. The Education for Students Act, introduced in January 2005, would increase the maximum contribution to Coverdell Education Savings Account to $5,000 per year—up from its current level of $2,000. At current rates, families could accumulate an average $3,000 in additional tax-free college savings under the new proposal—or much more, depending on how much they choose to put away. Cantwell also called for increases to the Pell Grant rate and for making the $4,000 college tuition tax credit permanent.

[Cantwell's remarks at Wednesday's event follow below]

"We all know that the best guarantee of a good, secure job is a quality education. But in today's America, the gates of higher education are locked to many students because the cost is just too high. Since 2001, the cost of a public higher education has increased by a staggering 46 percent. In Washington state alone, tuition costs at 4-year public colleges have spiked—increasing 63 percent since the fall of 2000.

"Tuition costs are skyrocketing, but family incomes of those with college-age children rose by only 3.4 percent between 2000 and 2003. 3.4 percent increase in income versus 63 percent increase in costs? At that rate, there's no way that family incomes can ever be able to keep pace with those rising costs.

"The average cost of tuition is now $4,950 at a 4-year public college in Washington—and every family knows that the tuition cost doesn't include housing, food, books, computers, phone bills, laundry, or any of the many other costs of having a kid away at school. But while those costs are going up, for almost 350,000 Washington students federal financial aid has been slashed back.

"Families shouldn't have to tell their children that they can't afford to send them to college this year, or the next. We can't let a college education become a privilege just for the wealthy. We have to make sure that families and students can afford college, regardless of their financial resources.

"I know what it's like to have a tough time affording to go to college: With the help of federal Pell Grants, and a lot of hard work, I was the first in my family to graduate from college. With family incomes stagnant, more and more students are meeting the eligibility criteria for Pell Grants and other federal student loans in recent years. But there's just less money to go around. This year, more than 150,000 college-ready students won't go to college because they can't afford it.

"In January of 2005, Republicans made the largest raid on student aid I've ever seen. The Deficit Reduction Act they pushed through Congress deliberately cut $12.7 billion straight from student loan programs—it was one third of all the cuts they made law with that bill. One third of all spending cuts, $12.7 billion—the biggest cut in the history of the federal student loan program. The president says education is key to American competitiveness but his budget for next year proposes the single largest cut to federal education funding in the 26-year history of the Education Department—$2.2 billion. If that $2.2 billion cut following the $12.7 billion cut doesn't tell you where the Republicans' priorities are, I don't know what does.

"We need a new direction. Today we stand here to challenge the Republican Congress to act now in the best interest of America's students, America's families, and a competitive American economy. We challenge them to make a college education affordable for every American—don't just say you care, take the steps to make it possible.

"This Republican Congress can act now and pass my bill to permanently increase to $5,000 the amount that families can save annually for college and take as a tax deduction. We challenge them to increase the maximum Pell Grant to $4,500—an amount that actually keeps pace with costs. We challenge them to make the $4, 000 college tuition tax credit permanent. We challenge them to reduce college loan interest rates for students and their parents.

"It's wrong to look for extra savings in the pockets of our poorest students. It's time to invest in our future and provide America's next generation of leaders with the support they need to excel."

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