Neuman: Why Republicans Should Support Student Loan Reform
As a lifelong Republican, I’ve watched with bewilderment as my party has missed some real opportunities. Yes, an opposition party must oppose. But quality legislation deserves our support, even if it comes from the other side, as long as it meets our long-standing principles. That’s why I fully endorse student loan reform and hope the Senate passes it. I join the six Republicans who voted for it in September with a majority of the Democrats in the House.
[IMGCAP(1)]I’ve reviewed the comments and critiques of my fellow Republicans about this issue. Frankly, the opposition from some Republicans does not square with the reality of the benefits of this bill.
The legislation deserves GOP backing first and foremost because it eliminates government waste and saves billions — this is the bedrock of everything the party stands for. This bill will have the Education Department originate all new federal student loans instead of going through banks. The choice is simple — do we help Citibank make millions of dollars in profit from zero-risk student loans or find other ways to use the up to $87 billion in savings? That savings number comes from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The bill plows that $87 billion into things that Republicans typically say they support — like deficit reduction. Ten billion dollars of the savings would go to paying off the debt.
Next, $12 billion would go to reform and strengthen community colleges. We know community colleges are the lifeblood for training workers and matching them to local employers. Ask any Republican governor and he will tell you. But, as they say on TV, there’s more! The bulk of the overall savings would help student loans keep up with inflation. Again, this helps us win in a worldwide economy.
The key part of the bill, in my opinion, is the $10 billion for the Early Learning Challenge Fund. This fund will promote improvements in early learning standards and ensure students in the next generation have the skills that they need for kindergarten and the rest of their education.
The fund is targeted to at-risk children because the science is very clear that the first five years are where we can make a difference with this group. While serving in the Bush administration, my belief in the benefits of early education became even stronger. Economists, business leaders and child development experts agree that smart investments in early education are essential to closing the achievement gap.
By 4 years old, children from low-income families are already 18 months behind most other 4-year-olds. Education reform must include high-quality early learning opportunities from birth through age 5 to help give children what they will need to succeed. We know if they don’t succeed the outcomes can include dropping out of high school, lower wages, fewer life skills and trouble with the law.
The fund’s investment of $1 billion each year for 10 years will occur through competitive grants to challenge states to build comprehensive, high-quality early learning systems. When it comes to doling out taxpayers’ money, I’m all in favor of competition. Let the best ideas and states rise to the top.
When I served in government, I was tasked with implementing No Child Left Behind. I know the enormous difficulties and risks involved with any change in government. It’s easier to keep the status quo. But our current education system isn’t working. Republicans need to be part of the solution, and this bill aligns with their core beliefs. I urge them to join me.
Dr. Susan B. Neuman, former assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, is a professor in educational studies at the University of Michigan. She served in the Bush administration from 2002 to 2004.