Education and Youth
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%. The ability to afford a college degree is in jeopardy for too many. Public education is a right earned by hard work, not a privilege reserved for a lucky few. So many social problems are inextricably linked with education, including life expectancy, segregation, the cycle of poverty, and public health issues. Working to make college affordable is among my top priorities.
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.
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 will mark the first year students can apply for financial aid using the FAFSA as early as October 1, instead of having to wait until the next year's tax season.
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.
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 their 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.