Education and Youth
The ability to afford a college degree is in jeopardy for too many. Outstanding student loans now total more than $1.2 trillion, surpassing even total credit card debt. Between 2004 and 2012, the average Texas student debt balance grew by 61 percent. So many social problems are inextricably linked with education, including life expectancy, segregation, the cycle of poverty, and public health issues. Public education is a right that, through hard work, provides a lifetime of benefits, not a privilege reserved for a fortunate, wealthy few. Working to make college affordable is among my top priorities. I have spoken out against President Trump’s proposed budget cuts, including slashing funding for the Department of Education by 13.5 percent. We need to invest in education and in our students, not cut already inadequate funding.
Easing the Financial Aid Process
The U.S. Department of Education recognized San Antonio and Austin as two of the top five cities in the nation to increase completion rates of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). More than half of San Antonio students graduating from high school now apply for federal financial aid to help assist with the high costs of college. Despite our community’s progress, too many students find the FAFSA too complicated to complete, so they lose access to available financial aid and abandon college education altogether.
In September of 2015, I introduced a bill that would simplify the financial aid process by allowing use of tax information from two years before the year a student seeks aid for. In the week after that introduction, the Obama administration announced a move to the very system I championed. 2016 marked the first year students could apply for financial aid using the FAFSA as early as October 1, instead of having to wait until the next year's tax season. Recognizing the need for an even simpler federal aid process, I introduced the Equitable Student Aid Access Act, which would make key changes to the FAFSA process. This bill, like my successful 2015 FAFSA legislation, is designed to take the next step in removing unnecessary obstacles to ease access to student financial aid. All students who qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or food assistance through SNAP, for example, would be able to complete a shorter form FAFSA to access the full Pell Grant amount. The bill also codifies that the FAFSA is available earlier, in October, and broadens access to the full Pell Grant amount for some of our most struggling families.
Keeping College Affordable
The Pell Grant program is the nation’s central federal financial aid program, providing scholarship aid to more than nine million low and moderate-income students annually. I have worked to protect and expand Pell Grants, which serve as an equalizer for college students and make the college dream a reality for millions of students each year. More than a quarter of students at San Antonio College, UTSA, Texas State and Austin Community College rely on Pell Grants to help finance their college degrees. If you are willing to work to get yourself to college, I am willing to work to help get you through without insurmountable debt. I have committed to serve students and their families from pre-K to post-grad, and my commitment to affordable higher education will not waver. An investment in American students is an investment in America.
To lower the debt burden, I helped successfully pass the American Opportunity Tax Credit to save students and families up to $10,000 on tuition, textbooks, and other fees. Aptly known as the "More Education" tax credit, the credit has helped millions of students and working families pay for college since 2009. In February of 2017, I introduced legislation to allow Pell Grant recipients to receive the full tax benefit of this credit, increase the credit’s lifetime maximum limit, and provide more help to those who most need it.
Ensuring A Strong Start for Children
I believe we must increase access to high-quality early education by providing funding for pre-kindergarten classes for low-income children. I am a long-time supporter of the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start, and Early Head Start. Whether or not America’s most vulnerable young children reach their full potential depends in large part on our investment in these programs. I opposed the Republican budgets that would result in deep cuts to funding for formula-driven education programs such as Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) which help ensure that the children who need the most assistance have the resources they need to succeed.
Keeping our Children Safe
The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, established by my Protect Our Kids Act that was signed into law, accepted my invitation to hold its first field hearing in San Antonio. We need a greater focus on abuse and neglect prevention and more resources to reduce caseloads for child welfare caseworkers.
I also introduced a bill to help keep children out of foster care and with their families. The bill provides funding to create and maintain community-based prevention and intervention services, like family skills training, mentoring, and therapy. Every child needs a safe, happy home, and this bill helps families across America stay together and receive the services and support they need.