When Jeff was a child, his father would take him to the doors of his school, and say, “Those are the doors to opportunity. If you study hard, you can do or be just about anything.” Throughout his life, Jeff has taken those words to heart. He was the first in his family to go to college, earning scholarships to Stanford and Princeton.
When Jeff first took on the challenge of running for the Oregon State Legislature, one of the reasons was because he wanted to build a better education system for his young children. As Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, Jeff worked with the 2007 Oregon Legislature to increase funding for the state’s pre-kindergarten/Head Start Program, allowing 75 percent of eligible children to enroll, up from 50 percent at previous funding levels. In the Oregon Legislature, Jeff also led the effort to more than double the funds available for student financial aid and make financial aid available to part-time students for the first time in Oregon’s history.
Education is a major factor in determining whether our children and our nation succeed in today’s increasingly competitive global economy. As a country, we need to do a better job of supporting teachers and giving them the resources they need to provide the best possible environment for teaching our children. If we are serious about developing a competitive and comprehensive education system, we must provide our children with a well-rounded curriculum and our teachers with the resources they need for classroom achievement.
Oregon’s schools are facing overcrowded classrooms, shortened calendar years, and facilities in need of maintenance and repair. We must make strong investments in our education now for the success of each child and the long-term economic prosperity of our country. In his role on the powerful Appropriations Committee, Jeff is fighting for funding to support students and educators.
Jeff believes that we can improve education in America by:
• Creating a strong reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind) that establishes realistic benchmarks to measure student progress over time and gives teachers and schools the flexibility and support they need to succeed.
• Fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) to ensure that every student has the opportunity for a quality education. Jeff is fighting to raise the federal funding levels for IDEA to provide schools and teachers with the resources they need to help all students realize their full potential.
• Supporting robust funding for early learning programs that provide young children with a proven foundation for long-term educational success. Building on his advocacy for Head Start in the Oregon Legislature, Jeff has consistently supported increased funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, and early learning programs.
• Providing schools with the educational facilities and resources necessary for academic success in the twenty-first century.
• Ensuring that our students are healthy and have access to nutritious foods in school. Jeff fought hard for the passage of health care reform to provide quality, affordable health care coverage for all families. He also cosponsored legislation to improve access to healthy school meals.
Preparing Students for the Jobs of the Future
We need to make sure that our children are educated and well-prepared for the global economy. As Jeff has heard from business leaders throughout Oregon, this starts with improving access to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in our schools to train the next generation of engineers and scientists, while also exposing our middle and high school students to career and technical education classes relevant for jobs such as manufacturing, welding, and woodworking.
Jeff has introduced two bills to help support STEM and shop classes in our public schools. The STEM Education for a Global Economy Act will help improve student engagement in and access to courses in STEM subjects. Jeff has also introduced the BUILD (Building Understanding, Investment, Learning, and Direction) Career and Technical Education Act, which would support career and technical education in middle and high schools.
As the first in his family to go to college, Jeff understands both the challenge of financing college and the lifelong benefits of receiving a higher education. Over a lifetime, a person with only a high school diploma will earn on average $23,000 less per year than a college graduate. Many professions in the world’s evolving economy require more than a high-school diploma, but rising tuition costs have become a barrier for too many Americans looking to pursue higher education. Jeff believes that Congress must help make college more affordable for American families.
One of the first actions Jeff took when he joined the Senate was to work with President Obama and Senate leadership to increase funding for Pell Grants by more than $17 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Jeff also fought to improve college access and affordability by eliminating wasteful spending in federal college loans and making historic investments in financial aid for students. A new law passed in 2010 redirected over $60 billion that would have gone to subsidies for banks into Pell Grants, boosting a federal scholarship that makes college more affordable for millions of Americans. This legislation will raise the maximum award to nearly $6,000 by 2017 and increase the number of recipients. The legislation also includes $2.5 billion to support the critical work of colleges serving minority students, and improves the terms of student loan forgiveness plans to make student loan repayment more manageable. More recently, Jeff fought to bring down federal student loan interest rates, arguing that the federal government shouldn’t profit off of students.
Pay It Forward
Student loans can be an enormous burden, with many students starting their working lives burdened by tens of thousands of dollars in debt. It’s clear that the old models aren’t working anymore. Jeff has introduced legislation that would create a new model for college financing to help middle class families pay for college. Jeff’s plan is based on Oregon’s bipartisan legislation that was passed during the 2013 legislative session and arose from a Portland State University student-led project.
The bill replaces federal loans with a reduction or elimination of college costs in exchange for the student's commitment to pay a small percentage of their future income back for a set number of years after graduation. By tying payments to income, the program guarantees that every participating student will find college affordable. The payments would go into a fund that would be used to finance future students’ tuition and fees.
Educational Opportunities for Service Members and Their Families
Jeff believes that the government must do everything it can to assist our men and women in uniform returning from Iraq and Afghanistan by providing financial assistance to help pay for job training or a college education. More information on Jeff’s efforts in this area can be found at the Foreign Policy and National Security page and the Veterans page.