Education is the cornerstone 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. Making that promise a reality requires an unbending commitment to equip every student with the skills our 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) 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 the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council in Massachusetts, I’ve traveled across Massachusetts to see the absolutely cutting-edge work being done in our public schools, career/technical education programs, community colleges and four-year institutions.
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 of 2014 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, introduced alongside Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, seeks to keep our economy’s brightest growth opportunities open to students from all backgrounds. It would 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 believe in a long-term approach to education that addresses each 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 accessible to all and creates clear pathways to promising careers.
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. I was pleased that Congress reached a bipartisan compromise on student loan interest rates in 2013, but there is more work to be done in keeping higher education accessible to students from every background. For this reason, I have co-sponsored and supported legislation to lower student interest rates even further and to allow students to refinance older federal student loans at the rates passed by Congress in 2013. But interest rates are only one piece of the puzzle and 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 is already having 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.
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 sense of fairness and opportunity that has always defined this country.