Education is the anchor of our country’s fundamental promise that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us deserves a fair chance to make the most of our talent and hard work. Keeping that promise requires an unbending commitment to equip every student with the skills our increasingly global economy demands. If our country wants to stay competitive for generations to come, we cannot continue to leave talent and potential on the table.

With this in mind, I have made Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and vocational-technical education a cornerstone of my legislative agenda. With industries like advanced manufacturing, life sciences, clean energy and health care expanding at a rapid pace, STEM education is a critical element in ensuring our students are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. As honorary chair of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council in Massachusetts, I’ve traveled across Massachusetts to see the absolutely cutting-edge work happening in our public schools, career/technical education programs, community colleges and four-year institutions. Together, we have worked to strengthen the STEM pipeline that utilizes career technical education and our Commonwealth’s leading voc-tech schools so that students can learn the skills they need to begin jobs in their own backyards.

These efforts are as diverse as they are innovative, yet all have one thing in common: a dedication to using STEM as a vehicle not just for innovation and advancement, but for access and opportunity. During my first term, I introduced two pieces of legislation to support those priorities at a national level. The Perkins Modernization Act is a bipartisan bill that would strengthen and support career/technical education by using workforce data to ensure that curriculum is aligned with the needs of employers in local labor markets. The STEM Gateways Act seeks to keep our economy’s brightest growth opportunities open to students from all backgrounds. It will create a federal grant program to support high-quality STEM education for women, minorities and students from low-income households—groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields. I was proud to see both of these bills signed into law with broad bipartisan support.

Too many students in our country are denied opportunities to reach their full potential simply by their zip code or school district. Equality throughout our education system requires investment in every step along a child’s path. From early childhood learning that stops the achievement gap before it forms to K-12 classrooms that build a comprehensive foundation to higher education that remains affordable to all and creates clear pathways to promising careers, our children deserve nothing less.

As college costs continue to rise while more and more jobs require a college degree, an industry certification, or some type of advanced skills training, higher education is simultaneously becoming more essential and less affordable. Our nation’s student debt is up to a record $1.5 trillion, and if the current Administration continues its attack on higher education by undermining protections for student borrowers, that number could quickly increase. For this reason, I have co-sponsored and supported legislation to support students’ accessibility to financial aid. But there is more work to be done in keeping education affordable and accessible to students from every background. I am committed to exploring long-term solutions that slow the growth rate of institutional costs in higher education. As one of the younger Members of Congress, this is a challenge that continues to have a profound effect on my generation. It’s hard to imagine things like buying a home, starting a family or saving for retirement when you enter your working years mired in debt.

Of course, we cannot discuss student achievement without discussing student safety. Since the day I was sworn into office, the House of Representatives has stood time and again for a moment of silence to remember young lives lost to gun violence but has yet to hold a single hearing about school shootings. Active shooter drills should not be required curriculum in our schools, and students should never ask if they will be the next victim. That is why I am a cosponsor of the Assault Weapons Ban and why I will not stop fighting to ensure our schools are safe from gun violence.

As our society becomes increasingly diverse and our economy becomes increasingly complex, the investments we make in our people and our potential are more important than ever in keeping the United States competitive and in keeping the American Dream alive for working families. Committed investment in education will sustain a solid middle class, a world-leading economy and the promise of fairness and opportunity that has always defined this country.