Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller and other House Members held a news conference this afternoon on the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, which the House is expected to pass this week. Below are the Speaker's remarks:
"Thank you very much Chairman Miller for your tremendous leadership on behalf of the students and children of America. It's an honor to be here with you and Secretary Duncan and to send our compliments to the President of the United States, Barack Obama, for making this legislation such a high priority, as he makes education one of the pillars of economic growth in America.
"In the President's budget, which is the budget of our national values -- a real statement of our national values, which passed the House and the Senate on the 100th day of the President's term in office. He has three pillars: education, health care, and energy policies that would create jobs and turn our economy around. Within the context of a budget that is fiscally sound, that we give tax cuts to America's middle class and will reduce the deficit.
"And here we are today, talking about legislation that not only does all of those things, but it also strengthens our democracy. It strengthens anything that is related to Thomas Jefferson or the founders of the United States of America. They believed that an informed population is essential to a strong democracy.
"Secretary Duncan, your appointment is an historic celebration across America. He has worked in our schools for more than 15 years, and is now working tirelessly to ensure a quality education for all of America's children.
"We all know that education is the best investment an individual can make in himself or herself, the best investment a family can for their child, and certainly the best investment that a nation can make in its citizens.
"For every additional year of higher education, an individual's earnings increase about 10 percent. Education is the key not only for prosperity in our nation; it is the key for prosperity in America's families.
"But for too many, a quality higher education has been simply unaffordable.
Expanding access to higher education is essential to building America's way out of recession and keeping our nation competitive. That's why Chairman Hinojosa's committee is about higher education and competitiveness. That's part of its title.
"Innovation begins in the classroom and it is essential that we prepare our students and our workforce for 21st century jobs by providing all Americans with the skills they need.
"When Democrats gained the majority in 2007, with Chairman Miller's leadership and with the cooperation of his committee members in a bipartisan way, we passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. That was the largest single investment in education since the GI Bill of 1944. Until now.
"The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act will invest $40 billion in Pell Grants and increase the maximum grant that can be awarded; invest more than $2.5 billion in our historically black colleges and universities and minority serving institutions; strengthen the Perkins Loan program that provides low-cost loans to students; and keep interest rates low for those who have federal student loans.
"This means that many more students will enter college; that they will graduate with less debt; that the federal loan initiatives that they and their families depend upon are strengthened for decades to come; and that taxpayers will save money. And also many households and parents can clearly encourage their children to do well in school; because college will be a possibility for them -- no longer will it be out of reach.
"Under Chairman Miller's leadership, we are investing in our nation's future strength through education at no additional cost to the taxpayer.
"This legislation is fiscally responsible -- following the strict standards of pay-as-you-go spending. And with the $87 billion in taxpayer savings, it achieves by switching to the cheaper Direct Loan program, it invests $77 billion of that back into education while reducing the federal deficit by $10 billion.
"This is a large part of our responsibility to improve education as well. We act in a way that takes us forward, but in a way that does not heap debt on our children.
"This legislation seizes the opportunity to strengthen our nation by making a historic commitment to our students and a landmark investment in our future."