Back to School: Education Priorities in Congress

As students in our community head back to school this week, I wanted to share with you some of the work I have done and will continue to do in Congress to improve education experiences for our children and college students.

During my first year in Congress, I supported the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was the first major reauthorization of federal elementary and secondary education programs since No Child Left Behind in 2001. As part of this effort, I advocated for a reduced federal footprint in our local schools. Provisions from a bipartisan amendment that I offered with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) were included in ESSA, which would allow states and school districts to use federal resources to audit existing assessment systems and eliminate unnecessary and duplicative tests. This September, as Pennsylvania and other states finalize the changes they will make under the new law, I will work to support strong funding for ESSA’s State Assessment Grant program to help states audit and improve ineffective or burdensome testing systems.

One of the factors that makes ESSA so noteworthy is its acknowledgement that no one knows better about our students’ needs than parents, local teachers, and administrators. As part of this approach, I have visited schoolsaround our community to receive feedback and to hear what students are interested in learning. Similarly, I have heard from Pennsylvania job creators about the kinds of skills they would like to see prioritized in local K-12 curriculums.

These employers have resoundingly listed science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) among the highest-demanded skills in our modern economy, which is why I am a member of the congressional STEM Caucus and the 21stCentury Skills Caucus.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that one in every two STEM jobs will be in computing — creating a significant amount of job openings in this field. In May, I introduced legislation with Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) that would promote computer science education programs so students develop the skills that employers need. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, employers are on the cutting edge of innovation, and encouraging students’ interest in these fields can provide a strong foundation for success in the modern workforce — exploring possibilities in the computer science field is just one example. In addition to legislative solutions, I also support applied learning experiences, including my office’s participation in the annual Congressional App Challenge. The Challenge is an opportunity for students to explore their interest in STEM in a real-world setting.

The 21st century workforce is truly a dynamic environment that is filled with opportunity, and in order for these opportunities to be realized, our workforce must be equipped with the appropriate training and skills for a competitive and evolving job market. I have spoken with many Pennsylvania job creators about their efforts to minimize the skills gap through apprenticeships and on-the-job training for current job-seekers, while also partnering with local schools to help students develop skills from an early age.

In Congress, to help support these needs, I co-sponsored the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. This bipartisan legislation, which passed the House in June, would reauthorize and update the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act) to strengthen job-ready educational opportunities in high schools, community colleges, and technical education programs in Pennsylvania and across our nation. In Pennsylvania, where we are facing a critical shortage of skilled workers in the precision manufacturing industry, this bill would allow state and local leaders to target additional resources to address this particular need, among others, by increasing flexibility in how states use Perkins funding to address state-specific needs.

For students who pursue public service, including teachers, first responders, and public health specialists, for example, I joined with my colleague from Pennsylvania, Congressman Brendan Boyle (D-PA) to launch the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Caucus. The Caucus aims to preserve the PSLF program, which promises to forgive the remaining balance of a student’s federal Direct loans if the student makes 10 years’ worth of qualifying, on-time monthly payments while working in a public service profession — often working in a lower-paying job while focusing on service to their communities.

No matter the career path students choose, it is critical they manage their student loan payments. You can read more about my work to help students responsibly manage their loans by clicking here.

Our students are the future leaders of our communities and our nation, and we must ensure our nation’s education system is successfully equipping these young leaders for the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow.

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