WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 20, 2009
Thank you, Chairman Miller and good morning.
And good morning to you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for appearing before this committee. I hope your testimony will be the start of a good, meaningful conversation today about the future of education in America.
I also hope this conversation can lead to common ground, one where both Democrats and Republicans can work together to improve our nation’s schools.
But a good conversation usually involves two points of view. That’s why I would like to take a moment to briefly outline the Republican education agenda.
By putting everything “on the table” this way, perhaps we can reach that common ground together sooner. So here’s where Republicans stand…
Our basic philosophy is this: Education decisions should be left to those who make them best – parents, local school districts, and the states.
The federal government should play a limited, but helpful, role in making those decisions.
To that end, we stand for constant improvement and innovation in education.
We also believe in the right of parents to choose the school, or other educational options, that best fits the needs of their children.
And we demand results from our reforms, so that taxpayer dollars are not wasted.
Mr. Secretary, judging by what I’ve heard from you and President Obama in recent months, there are some areas where we can work together.
Charter schools are a good example. Both you and the President have expressed support for them as a tool to improve student achievement.
We Republicans also support charter schools. We hope to hear ideas from you today about how we can ensure that states are not limiting this option by placing arbitrary caps on how many charter schools can operate.
I also believe we can work together on expanding pay-for-performance systems. We believe that teachers and principals should be rewarded for their success in improving academic achievement.
But there are other areas where we are not in agreement at this time – areas where the Administration has acted to protect the status quo at the expense of low-income students.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is a good example. This groundbreaking program has helped thousands of low-income students here in Washington attend the school of their choice – including Sidwell Friends, where the President’s children attend.
However, instead of helping to save the program, the President recently signed a law that effectively phased it out.
Your agency, Mr. Secretary, revoked scholarships that had been awarded to new students for the upcoming school year.
I know you want to improve public schools for all children. So do I. But until that happens, we shouldn’t take away this critical lifeline. More than 7,000 D.C. residents have signed a petition imploring us to keep the program alive.
Student loans are another area where we respectfully disagree with President Obama’s agenda.
Members on both sides of the aisle are troubled by the President’s proposal to end the Federal Family Education Loan – or FFEL – program.
So are 1,646 financial aid officials and students who have signed another petition urging Congress to keep FFEL and oppose the Administration’s proposal.
This program has been around for more than four decades. It has made the dream of a college education – and the quality of life that often comes with that degree – possible for millions.
One of the reasons for this success is because the program can be tailored to best fit students’ needs, thanks to the private lenders, not-for-profits, and state agencies that have all partnered with the federal government, colleges, and universities to serve students.
If we follow the President’s plan and use only a direct loan program, this would end the significant public-private partnership and replace it with the federal government and its contractors.
There would be a one-size-fits-all Washington program for the more than 6,500 colleges and universities in America whose diversity is the cornerstone of higher education in this country.
Ending this public-private partnership also will cost more than 30,000 jobs right off the bat – and could affect thousands more.
That said, we are not against reforming our nation’s complex financial aid system. Some reforms can be made. But we think it’s best to have a thoughtful and deliberate conversation with all the parties.
Just this week I heard from several small colleges that are very opposed to being forced to convert to direct loans. These colleges are concerned that their voices are not being heard in the rush to promote the direct loan program.
They have real concerns, and we should listen to the impact such a conversion will have on their students and institutions.
That way, we can make some good reforms while keeping what works in the program for all our colleges and the students they serve.
With that, I look forward to your remarks and continuing this conversation.
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