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Congressman on Campus

U.S. Rep. Courtney visits UConn to accept award, spark education discussion

By Marissa Piccolo
On November 5, 2013

Congressman Joe Courtney visited the University of Connecticut to speak on education reform this Monday after receiving an award from Jumpstart for being this year's "Legislative Champion."

The event, sponsored by Jumpstart and the emerging Democracy and Political Engagement branch of Community Outreach, aimed to stimulate conversation about early education reform and recognize the challenges Americans face every day as children are sent to public schools.

Courtney, a ranking member of the Education and Workforce Committee, provided a unique insight on education reform. He said that when it comes to upgrading America's education outcomes, investing early, from healthcare to education, gives an inimitable payoff to the taxpayer and enables the country to succeed at the highest level.

The issue of higher education affordability transcends party lines, being so vast, important and critical that it "overwhelmed normal partisan obstacles," Courtney said.

However, that does not mean it isn't still hypercompetitive when it comes to securing grants and funding, especially when the federal government shuts down. There are many House Republicans that are trying to turn education into a constitutional issue, debating the role of the federal government in state affairs, according to Courtney.

Courtney emphasized the role of education not only in improving the quality of life of students, but also stimulating the economy. The debate in Washington is whether unemployment is a result of structural problems such as education and job placement programs, or a top-line problem that there are just not enough available jobs to begin with. He believes that this is a "false debate," and that both approaches will be needed to make a comprehensive solution and achieve true education reform.

Courtney said he sees this firsthand while sponsoring job placement fairs, where companies come with many open positions and eager to hire new workers. Oftentimes, both parties, employers and hopeful employees, leave frustrated, employees without both the necessary skills and missing the opportunity to acquire these marketable skills.

The main reason education is such a visible issue is its connection to employment and the American Dream. Connecticut has the highest education achievement gap in the country. However, earnings per capita vary drastically. The gap begins as students walk into kindergarten, causing Connecticut to become a true "tale of two cities," according to Courtney.
In addition to making children more likely to succeed, Courtney stressed the importance of making higher education more accessible and affordable. The value of post -high school education is not a debate for him, if you break down the unemployed population by level of schooling. The current interest rate for student loans is approximately 6.8 percent, while the rate on a house mortgage is only 4 percent.

Although the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act was passed to lower the student loan rate, the number is still and expected to rise over time. According to Courtney, the solution will be multifaceted, from reevaluating colleges, namely those who "horrifically" operate for profit, to providing incentive for states themselves to step up their game, as seen with NextGen Connecticut.

"As much as a turnoff as Washington looks like these days, there's only one answer, we just need to intensify involvement and activity," Courtney said.
 


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