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This Week in Washington


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As we take immediate measures to bolster our recovering economy, we must also keep a focus on the nation's future economic health by supporting education that prepares Americans for the workforce and marketplace of the future. I fight daily for measures such as repealing bad trade deals and enforcing international trade agreements to return to our shores the traditional industries such as furniture and textiles that provided jobs in our state and district for many decades. But we must also make sure that schools and colleges are teaching the skills that will be in demand in the workplace of the future. This is a matter as vital to the health and prosperity of our nation as any other, and must not be clouded or hijacked by political games or partisan bickering.

Community colleges serve a vital role in our state, in filling the gap between high school and four-year college for some students, serving as a training ground before entering the workforce for others and being a resource of ongoing adult education and job training for anyone who finds themselves at a point in their career that a credentials and skills upgrade is required. Many community colleges also serve as the birthplace of small businesses and entrepreneurship by hosting business incubators, a proven model to get fledgling companies off the ground. These efforts must be supported and encouraged. Every person who comes off the employment rolls and goes onto a payroll becomes a taxpayer, as well a customer of goods and services.

Unfair and unenforced trade deals have devastated our economy, but have applied resources into retraining a skilled workforce. The people who live and work in our district have the ability to produce products that are competitive with any made anywhere in the world. The talent in our people is obvious. A key component to the fight to end unfair trade deals must be to continue to educate and make ready a workforce to continue the proud tradition of Made in America.

The American worker did not create the economic downturn that began in 2008, but it is the wage-earning family that has suffered most from the crisis. Middle class jobs are the ones that left our economy first. Unemployment is disproportionately high among lower wage and middle class workers. The mill worker who signed no trade deal, the carpenter who made no bad mortgage loans, the truck driver who never once speculated in the world's oil markets, have all suffered over the last eight years, while big oil and Wall Street have kept right on humming, and raking in record profits. The one thing we must do in order to give the middle class and working families a chance in this grossly unfair situation, is to invest in quality education.

There are no bailouts for the contractor or restaurant owner or landscaper whose prospects have dimmed due to the actions or inactions of much bigger and much more influential players in the economy. But one thing we can do, and always have done, in this country is to make sure that our schools nurture innovation and teach marketable skills. Knowledge plus ability equals employability. Employees of one business are the customers of other businesses. The answer to spurring our sluggish economy is to put Americans back to work, both through adopting an America-first trade policy and continuing to prepare workers to tackle the world once they are given fair and full access to its markets.

Education policy is complicated, and every person I know has at least one if not a half-dozen opinions on the subject. Some in Washington want greater centralized federal control, while others want to abolish the Department of Education, altogether. You and I both know neither of those things is likely to happen. This is another area that I feel is too important for partisan posturing. The future of our economy and the American way of life are directly tied to how well we educate our children and how well we train our workforce. I believe that a moderate, common sense path must be found. And I believe that path must consider the advice and counsel of teachers and parents and administrators at every level of our educational system.

We need to replicate what works, weed out what doesn't, then have a transparent and honest debate about funding and management and accountability--a debate focused on what is best for our children and our economy, and not one based on clichés and worn out rhetoric. We must cut waste and eliminate redundancies and other inefficiencies, but we must not shortchange even one child's access to a quality education.

I spent seven years in the classroom as a high school civics teacher. I understand the challenges facing our schools and those charged with managing and paying for them. But I also understand that the most important and formative time a child spends in life, outside of family and church, is in the classroom. Anything that important is too important to use as a political bargaining chip. Our future depends on it.

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