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Public Statements

CBC Hour: Higher Education

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. JACKSON LEE. Allow me to thank both of my very good friends, the gentleman from New York and the gentleman from Nevada, for really answering the call of the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech, but I think the most important part of speech is information. Thank you for the opportunity to share with our colleagues and share with America the pending crisis.

If I might just quote from an article in the Houston Chronicle by a writer in the early part of February, Mike Tolson, that said:

Like a hurricane churning across the Gulf of Mexico, the looming Federal sequestration threatens everything in its path. If the deep and automatic Federal budget cuts actually take place, there will be damage somewhere--perhaps a lot of somewheres.

So today we're standing on the floor of the House embracing some of the historic comments as relates to the African American community and other minority communities about the value of education. How many of us have been told by our parents that it was the door, the key, to opportunities? How many of us recognized it by listening to the words of Dr. Benjamin Mays, who was a leading voice at Morehouse and an educator, who always spoke of the slaves rising from the ashes, to be educated, to do good? And the debate between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. It was a question of The Talented Tenth, but it was also a question of those who could pull their buckets up where they stand, to be artisans, carpenters, painters, and others. But it was to learn something, to be educated.

Today I stand sadly on this floor, Mr. Jeffries, and acknowledge that as I speak, one of my boards is having a meeting. They are a school district, not higher

education as we talk about tonight, but it plays into this because there is a siege upon education in America. That board and that community, the North Forest Independent School District, is fighting with every breath in their body to keep from closing after they've succeeded in reaching all of the goals that were given to them by the Texas education agency. But our Governor, Governor Rick Perry, is opposed to their survival. Our commissioner, Commissioner Michael Williams, is opposed to their survival. And as well, what a contrast, when just a few days ago he saved another school district, not African American, with the same proposal North Forest has.

So I stand on the floor today to join you and acknowledge: is the siege continuing? It seems to be, because right now our friends, our Republican friends, this House, refuses to have a conference on the budget. A conference on the budget might put us in a better position than what we will be doing today, H.R. 1911. It might put us in a better position than what the Department of Education, unfortunately, has had to do with the reconfiguration on the parent PLUS loans.

I ask why the budget conference has not been called? Why are we on the backs of people who are suffering and who want to get an education? Why are we on the backs of those, like in north Texas, who are suffering from tornadoes or the disaster today, where we don't know how many lives have been lost? Why are we suffering? Why don't we have a budget conference? Why are we suffering when we recognize how much education provides? I thank you, Mr. Horsford, for this initiative to show what it means to get an education. This is what our parents told us.

Less than a high school diploma, weekly earnings $451; high school diploma or GED--and I spoke to a group that got a GED, $638, congratulations to them. A bachelor's degree, $1,053. And a professional degree, $1,655.

This is a 2012 document, and I just want to call out these numbers of unemployment. They're higher when you don't have a high school education, almost 15 percent and growing; 10 percent for a high school education; and of course the numbers go down.

So it is of great concern that we now are facing legislation that is going to take the fat--oh, let me just stop and say that. Somebody says fat, they say: Oh, yeah, we want to take the fat out. That is going to go to the bone of individuals who are simply trying to get an education.

Sequestration is cutting NASA. It is cutting education programs. I just met some people on an airplane who said that all my programs from Rice University in science have been wiped out because of sequestration. Now my friends want to bring H.R. 1911, rather than listening to what we can do here today.

I introduced H.R. 900 with John Conyers and a number of other Members who said, let's end sequestration. If we end sequestration, we wouldn't have to bring up H.R. 1911.

Let me just say these few words as I discuss these boards very quickly. Right now it is noted that student borrowing is widespread, and more than $100 billion in Federal education loans are distributed every year. What that means is that is the debt we are putting on the children of America. A historically black college like Texas Southern University in Houston, 81 percent of the students receive some form of student assistance. They received $85 million in student financial aid. In terms of student loan debt, 92 percent of those students are African Americans; 85 percent are Hispanic students--this is overall--and 85 percent are Native Americans students; 82 percent are multiracial students; and 77 percent are white students.

[Time: 20:40]
Last year I introduced the College Literacy Finance and Economics Act of 2011 to help our students manage their debt; but now we find ourselves facing an uphill battle, and that is the introduction of this legislation that I believe is probably the worst that we could ever have. Let me explain it to you and see what H.R. 1911 does.

We're right now at 3.4 percent. That looks like it's reasonable. If this bill passes this week, by July 1, we will be up to 6.8 percent--excuse me. By July 1, if we don't do anything, we'll be 6.8 percent, $8,880 in interest to be paid. But if we pass H.R. 1911, we'll be at $10,109 in interest. Isn't this a disgrace, a shame on a Nation that encourages our young people, whether they go in business or not, to get an education?

And then as Mr. Jeffries mentioned, the Congressional Black Caucus has taken on the burden of a horrific burden that has been put on our parents, something called Parent Plus. In fact, I was looking at the numbers from Texas Southern University, who said they lost 450 students--and they don't know if they've got all the numbers--because the Parent Plus loan program caused students to drop out by the thousands across America. By the thousands.

I want to thank the Congressional Black Caucus and our chairwoman, Chairwoman Fudge, for waking up this issue, along with our members on the Education Committee from the Congressional Black Caucus, because this is what is happening under the Parent Plus program.

Already bad under current law, in terms of the interest paid, $27,956. But look what will happen under H.R. 1911. It would force parents to pay 28 percent more on their loan, $35,848.

A debt on parents is a debt on the children. If the parents got ill, if the parents lost their jobs, if the parents had other children to take care of, and that one student that they invested in and they loved, trying to get the others to come up behind them, parents meaning well, doing well, and you're going to burden them with this burden on top of that, the student that is trying to increase their income.

So I would simply say that we're facing tragedy in our country with bad weather, but we're facing a tsunami of disaster on the floor of the House with the lack of a budget, with a sequester that is now getting into the seams of our life by causing enormous debt and legislative initiatives that are unwise and devastating.

And so I'd ask today that we move on the budget conference. And I ask the Speaker to bring up H.R. 900, a simple sentence. It says: to remove the sequestration from the 2011 Budget Act and go back to regular order.

Many of us are looking at amendments offered by the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Courtney), whose legislation we supported last year. But we want anything but this devastating bill that is going to snatch the opportunity and the dignity of education from those who are trying.

I close on the remarks of President Obama as he spoke to the historic Morehouse College this past Sunday, thank him for visiting with those young men. And he talked about a young man who had a rough upbringing, a difficult upbringing, and he congratulated that young man because that young man had now graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Morehouse College and is going on to Harvard Law School.

I can assure you that that young man had his own sticktoitiveness, but also that the young men in those colleges like Morehouse have loans and depend upon financial aid, generally speaking.

And so what Mr. Obama conveyed to those young men, that the sky is the limit, that there should be no

obstacles in front of you; don't blame anyone else; keep climbing up the ladder.

And we stand here on the floor this week to snatch the very promise of education out of the hands of those students, no matter what race they are, snatch it out of their hands with a devastating, crafty, expensive, trickery such as H.R. 1911.

I pray, as I go to my seat, I pray that wisdom will take charge, and that Members of Congress will come together and defeat H.R. 1911 and put on the floor of the House the legislation that has been offered by many on this side of the aisle, to be able to ensure that those individuals, parents and children, continue to claim the American Dream no matter where you walk from, no matter what story you have to tell, no matter what your racial or ethnic background is.

I'm glad that the CBC is standing here today to tell our story and to speak for America. I thank the gentleman for his courtesy.


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