My grandpa worked 1,500 feet underground in the iron ore mines of Northern Minnesota. He never graduated from high school, but he saved money in a coffee can in the basement to send my dad to college. My dad graduated from Vermilion Community College, which was then known as Ely Junior College, and earned his journalism degree from the University of Minnesota. He went on to be a sports reporter and a newspaper columnist. My mom, who grew up in Milwaukee, was a public school teacher who taught second grade until she was 70 years old. I learned the value of education from my parents and grandparents.
My story is shared by many Americans. We must now carry on that tradition by providing all Minnesota families with the educational opportunities they need to succeed in the twenty-first-century economy—from early education to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes, to apprenticeships, training and credential programs, to community and technical colleges, four-year universities, and beyond. A good education should be the basic right of every child. It is certainly one of the very best investments we can make in our future as a nation. Minnesota’s belief in the value of education is reflected in the strong support we have given our schools and higher education institutions over the years. We have always believed that investing in education pays extraordinary dividends. Not only does it pay off for the student, but it pays off for the rest of us by creating a more productive workforce and better-informed citizens.
As our schools have faced new challenges during the coronavirus pandemic and students have had to depend on remote learning, I am working to ensure that we support our kids and strengthen our commitment to providing adequate funding for our schools. Gaps in access to broadband and reliable technology have heightened the learning challenges faced by many students, with nearly 16 percent of Minnesota households lacking access to broadband at sufficient speeds. These access issues, combined with other pandemic challenges, have resulted in some students beginning the current academic year up to five months behind in learning. In addition to expanding vaccine distribution, reopening our schools, and ensuring school safety, we must address the learning loss caused by this pandemic.
The rising cost of college and the burden of student loans continue to be a challenge for our students and their families. College tuition and fees have been rising more rapidly than household income over the past two decades. We must do more to expand higher education opportunities and make college more affordable for all students. We must also invest in community and technical colleges, apprenticeships, and training and credential programs to ensure we are preparing people for the jobs of tomorrow that our businesses are creating today.
At a time when our global economy demands more from our workforce, we must focus more than ever on the foundation of our future prosperity: education.
As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I will continue to focus on these priorities:
- Supporting the safe return to in-person learning. This pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for students, educators, and families across Minnesota. While the transition to virtual learning in certain schools kept educators and students safe as our country worked to understand and combat the coronavirus, the transition has had tangible consequences for students. By safely and equitably returning to in-person instruction, we can reduce or even eliminate many of these challenges. That is why I am working to secure sufficient funding and ample resources to expand vaccine availability and to help schools safely return to in-person learning.
- Expanding higher education opportunities. Minnesotans have always believed that every student should have the opportunity to pursue higher education. The cost of college has more than quadrupled in the past 30 years. Skyrocketing costs prevent many qualified students from attending college and force many others to end their education prematurely. At the same time, student loan debt has spun out of control. U.S. student debt has increased to over $1.7 trillion, with the average undergraduate leaving school with $30,000 in debt. At a time when more and more jobs require some form of higher education, we simply cannot allow soaring costs to be a barrier to opportunity. I am fighting for stronger federal support for higher education opportunities and making sure institutions of higher education adequately inform students about student loan obligations—because our future success as a state and a nation depends on making sure that quality education is accessible and affordable.
- Strengthening our commitment to one- and two-year degrees at community and technical colleges. From paper mills to poultry lines, American industry is changing. Increasingly, economic success depends on advanced technology and workers who have specialized skills to get the job done. In a Minnesota 2020 State of Manufacturing report, 6 out of 10 respondents said it was difficult for them to find workers with the right skills and experience. This is up from 4 out of 10 in 2010. We must do a better job of preparing students for the jobs that will be available to them when they graduate—positions that may not require a Ph.D. or even a four-year degree, but nonetheless demand specialized training and experience. Credentials and one- and two-year degrees offered by community and technical colleges may often be a better option for students who plan on entering the skilled workforce immediately after graduation. We must make these degrees a more central focus of our higher education system. America’s future economic prosperity depends on it.
- Investing in apprenticeships. We need to make sure that no good job goes unfilled because workers aren’t getting the right training. One proven way to close the skills gap is to utilize highly effective training models like registered apprenticeships. Registered apprenticeships combine on-the-job training with relevant academic instruction to create a win-win situation for workers and employers in all industries. Minnesota has a strong apprenticeship program with over 11,000 registered apprentices in in-demand occupations like advanced manufacturing, agriculture, information technology, and health care. We need to help states create and expand registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs that bring together schools and employers across the country.
- Increasing our focus on STEM education. To continue our global leadership in science and technology research and development, American students must receive the best training and education to compete with students in growing economies around the world. Our economic future depends on a highly-skilled and competitive workforce. We must do everything we can to encourage and support our students to study math and science. This begins with a greater focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the classroom – the subjects that are essential to building an innovation economy.
- Promoting early childhood education. Every time we invest in our children’s education, it pays dividends for our nation’s prosperity and competitive standing in the world. High-quality early care and education can improve child outcomes, ease the burden on public resources, and increase future productivity and growth of a child. A 2016 study from the University of Chicago found that high-quality early childhood development programs deliver a high return on investment of 13 percent.
- Reducing the education achievement gap. To ensure that all Minnesota families have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in the 21st century economy, we must reduce the educational achievement gap. I supported a new federal education law that requires each state to develop a plan that sets targets to close these gaps. Minnesota’s plan, which received federal approval in January of 2018, includes specific initiatives to provide for equal educational opportunities for all students, including students living in poverty, students of color, American Indian students, students learning English, and students with disabilities.
- Closing the gap in student internet access. Estimates have shown that nearly 17 million K-12 students do not have access to a broadband connection at home. As schools in Minnesota and across the country have increasingly relied on remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic, we must ensure that students can access the internet so that they can participate in online instruction and continue learning.
- Giving our schools and teachers real support, not empty promises. On December 10, 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law. I supported and advocated for this historic piece of legislation, which made substantive and long-overdue changes to our nation’s education system. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was intended to improve the performance of our schools by increasing accountability for states, school districts, and schools. In exchange for their commitment to reform, states were promised funding necessary to fulfill these new requirements. Instead, unfortunately, No Child Left Behind turned into another underfunded federal mandate. ESSA corrects some of the shortcomings of No Child Left Behind by giving states and local school districts more flexibility to make decisions about how best to meet students’ needs. ESSA ends the federal test-based system of No Child Left Behind, restoring the responsibility to states to determine how best to use federally required tests for accountability purposes. The law also includes three of my provisions to improve education in Minnesota. My provisions expand STEM opportunities, improve teacher and principal retention, and reduce chronic absenteeism.
- Guaranteeing high standards and accountability in education in a way that reflects students' real talents and real progress. Schools need to be held to the highest benchmarks, and I support national testing standards, but measuring progress must also be realistic and fair. In the CARES Act, which became law in March 2020, Congress granted authority to the Secretary of Education to waive state assessment and accountability mandates in response to challenges schools continue to face during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. I will work with schools to better measure comprehensive achievement while maintaining student health and school safety. I am also committed to examining ways we can provide a more comprehensive and valid assessment for students with disabilities and English language learners.
- Fully supporting education for those with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes specific requirements to ensure that students with disabilities receive the services they need to achieve their educational goals but the commitment to fully fund the IDEA has never been met. School districts are being forced to redirect more and more resources from their general education budgets to cover the shortfall. This practice hurts all students. I support fully funding the IDEA to help students with disabilities receive the services and support they need, and I am working to make sure the federal government lives up to its promise to support education for those with disabilities. Students with disabilities, who often require additional support, have been more vulnerable to harm caused by disruptions in education during the pandemic, and I have joined my colleagues in requesting additional emergency funding to serve the needs of these students.
As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I’ve been working to ensure all our students have the educational opportunities they need to succeed in the 21st century economy:
- Supporting the safe return to in-person learning. The transition to virtual learning during this pandemic has had tangible consequences for students, educators, and families across Minnesota, and Congress must ensure that schools have the resources they need to facilitate the safe turn to in-person learning as it becomes safe to do so. That’s why I supported the December 2019 relief package which included nearly $54 billion to K-12 schools to respond to the coronavirus, including funding for repairing ventilation systems and hiring additional support staff as well as addressing learning loss, as well as the March 2021 relief package that included an additional $130 billion to K-12 schools to support the safe return to in-person learning.
- Making education more affordable by:
- Stopping increases to loan rates. The interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford student loans was set to double—from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent—on July 1, 2013. To prevent this from happening, I cosponsored the Keep Student Loans Affordable Act and the Student Loan Affordability Act. I also worked to prevent the rate from immediately doubling in the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act that was signed into law in 2013.
- Allowing students to refinance loans at lower interest rates. I cosponsored the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act and the Reducing Education Debt Act, which take several important steps to address the issue of student debt, including allowing student loan borrowers to refinance their student loan debt at lower interest rates and adjusting Pell grants for inflation so that they keep pace with rising costs.
- Helping students with loan repayment and Pell grants. I worked to pass the College Cost Reduction Act, which created the income-based repayment plan and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and I supported the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which now saves middle-class families up to $2,500 a year on college tuition. I also worked to pass a law removing private lenders from the federal student loan system, which saved taxpayers nearly $68 billion and expanded Pell grants. In December 2020, we also successfully expanded Pell grant eligibility for an additional 1.7 million Americans and restored Pell grant access for incarcerated people. To help those with student loans during the coronavirus pandemic, I have supported measures that have temporarily suspended student loan payments for borrowers with federal student loans.
- Providing tuition-free access to two-year community, technical, and tribal colleges. I cosponsored the America’s College Promise Act to create a federal-state partnership that pays for two tuition-free years of school for students in community, technical, or tribal college programs that lead to an associate’s degree, an industry-recognized credential, or credits that are fully transferable to a four-year institution.
- Creating opportunities for year-round education and training and credential programs. I introduced legislation to expand the eligible uses of the “529” tax-advantaged education savings accounts to allow these accounts to be used for training and credential programs that help workers develop the skills needed for 21st century jobs. I also cosponsored the Year-Round Pell Grant Restoration Act—passed in the 2017 spending bill—which restores eligibility for students to apply for Pell grants for summer classes, helping students who do not follow the traditional four-year college path afford higher education. Additionally, I introduced the Skills Renewal Act with Senator Sasse to create a flexible skills training credit for people who have lost their job during the coronavirus pandemic. These displaced workers would have access to training programs and develop skills that are expected to be in high demand in the coming years.
- Expanding access to higher education for low-income and first-generation students. I have been a strong supporter of federal TRIO programs—including supporting funding increases that passed in March of 2018—that continue to provide fundamental support to low-income and first-generation students across Minnesota as they prepare to attend college. With fewer Minnesota high school seniors applying for FAFSA to receive federal financial student aid during this pandemic, I have been supportive of efforts to simplify the FAFSA form to ensure applying for federal student aid does not serve as a barrier to access to higher education.
- Improving student financial literacy. I introduced the Empowering Student Borrowers Act to help students understand the financial implications of student loan debt. Key provisions of this legislation, which were signed into law in May 2018, require institutions of higher education to notify students of their total loan obligations, expected monthly payment, and estimated interest rate, and require the Administration to establish best practices for schools to teach financial literacy to students.
- Providing our students the training and skills they need to compete in the global economy by:
- Boosting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. I passed key provisions of my Innovate America Act—introduced with Senator John Hoeven from North Dakota—to allow states to award funding to create or enhance a STEM-focused specialty school or a STEM program within a school as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. I also helped pass into law the America COMPETES Act of 2007, which increases support for math and science education and new technology initiatives. We passed major reauthorizations of this legislation in 2010 and 2016, including my provisions to require the Director of the National Science Foundation to consider recommendations from organizations representing underrepresented groups for the STEM Education Advisory Panel and allow for research to better understand factors relevant to the retention of STEM teachers from underrepresented groups, including women and minorities. I also led bipartisan legislation with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to encourage veterans and military spouses to pursue careers in STEM fields that was signed into law in February 2020. I will continue to push for policies that strengthen our nation’s commitment to remaining competitive in the global marketplace.
- Making it easier to participate in apprenticeships. I have introduced the American Apprenticeship Act with Senator Susan Collins to help workers obtain industry-relevant classroom instruction in order to close the skills gap. The legislation would provide funding to states for the creation or expansion of tuition assistance programs that benefit participants in pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships combine on-the-job training with relevant academic instruction to create a win-win situation for workers and employers in all industries. For workers, registered apprenticeships provide an opportunity to stay in the labor market, earn a living wage, and pursue a nationally recognized credential, making apprenticeships one of the most cost-efficient workforce development tools. For employers, registered apprenticeships provide a workforce trained for their needs, reduced turnover, and improved safety outcomes, giving American businesses an edge in the global marketplace. Though evidence indicates that the apprenticeship model is a highly effective training model, it is not widely used by American workers or employers. That needs to change.
- Diversifying our technical workforce. I am co-chair of the Diversifying Tech Caucus with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. This caucus is aimed at working on policies that increase the representation of women, minorities, and veterans in the tech sector. I am also co-chair of the Women’s High Tech Coalition. Minnesota has always been a national leader in innovation. We will stay on the cutting edge of innovation only by fostering and tapping the creativity and ingenuity of all Americans. My bipartisan Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act and Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act—signed into law in February 2017—expands National Science Foundation efforts to recruit and support women in STEM fields as they commercialize their research and authorize the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator to encourage women to study STEM and pursue careers in aerospace through NASA initiatives.
- Reducing the education achievement gap by supporting early childhood education opportunities. By age 5, children’s earliest interactions and environments shape much of their cognitive and character development, which is why targeted, high-quality investments in young children are so crucial for lifelong success. To help provide a strong early start for the youngest members of our state, I cosponsored the Child Care for Working Families Act, which would expand access to high-quality preschool and child care, improve training and resources for early childhood teachers and caregivers, and prioritize the challenges experienced by parents who work non-traditional hours, children with disabilities, and rural areas, as well as the FAMILY Act, which would create a permanent paid family and medical leave program for workers to receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave. I also introduced the Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act to address shortages of affordable, quality child care options in our state by supporting programs to expand the child care workforce. The legislation would also support building, renovating, and expanding child care facilities to ensure children have safe and healthy environments to learn and play in. I fought for Minnesota to receive the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant, which provided $45 million to improve the quality of early learning and development programs serving high-need children across our state. I also supported the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, which expands and improves early learning opportunities for children from birth to age five, and the Head Start for School Readiness Act, which was signed into law in 2007 to ensure that children are prepared when they enter school. In March of 2018, we increased funding for Head Start and nearly doubled funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant programs.
- Ensuring that students can connect to the internet. Access to high-speed internet is critical for students, especially as schools have increasingly relied on remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic. With nearly 17 million K-12 students lacking a broadband connection at home, I joined House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn in introducing comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, to close the digital divide once and for all. Our bill would invest $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to connect American families and ensure students have access to critical internet services for distance learning. I have also urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action to ensure that all K-12 students can access critical internet services so that they can continue to learn. I also introduced the Keeping Critical Connections Act with Senator Cramer to help ensure that small broadband providers can continue to provide internet services for students and low-income families during this public health crisis. In December 2020, several of my key broadband priorities were included in the year-end omnibus signed into law. One of these provisions includes $285 million in funding to ensure college students with the greatest financial need have access to high-speed internet, based on my bill, the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act with Senators Hirono, Peters, and Rosen.
- Supporting teachers in the classroom by enacting major changes to No Child Left Behind. In 2012, I successfully fought for Minnesota’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act waiver, which gave our state greater flexibility around certain No Child Left Behind goals. I supported the Every Student Succeeds Act—signed into law in December 2015—which ends the federal test-based system of No Child Left Behind, restoring the responsibility to states to determine how best to use federally-required tests for accountability purposes. The law also includes my provision to add improving teacher retention to the criteria for professional development grants that the Department of Education awards to Indian schools. Inadequate professional development and the lack of ongoing support are key reasons why some teachers and principals leave the profession, leading to instability and added costs of rehiring and retraining for schools and school districts. My provision also allows activities and programs that help reduce turnover and improve teacher and principal retention, such as mentoring programs, more robust intervention in the early years of a teacher’s career, and involvement from tribal elders and community members.
- Increasing education funding for students with disabilities. I support fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help students with disabilities receive the services and support they need, and I am a cosponsor of legislation to put Congress on a fiscally responsible path to fully fund this critical law. I supported a $275 million increase in IDEA grants to states—passed in March of 2018—to help students with disabilities receive the services they need to achieve their educational goals and to begin reducing the burden on school districts that have had to redirect resources from their general education budgets to cover the shortfall in education funding for those with disabilities.