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Blunt Delivers Opening Remarks at Department of Education Budget Hearing

June 07, 2022

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), the top Republican on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS), delivered opening remarks at a hearing on the FY2023 Department of Education budget request. Blunt highlighted the critical importance of mental health access in schools, and discussed the harmful impact the administration’s unfair, regressive student loan forgiveness proposals would have on higher education. 

Following is Blunt’s Opening Statement:

“Morning, Chair, and thank you for having this hearing today. Secretary Cardona, thank you for appearing before the subcommittee today to discuss the Department of Education's FY2023 budget request. I appreciate so much of what you're doing at the department, and in the last year we've gotten a chance to know each other, I don't think we've ever had a conversation that didn't include catching up on your family, and I appreciate your commitment to them and to education.

“Before we turn to the budget request, I want to acknowledge the terrible tragedy that occurred at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas two weeks ago. Like many Americans, I'm heartbroken for the lives of the 19 students that will go unlived, of the two teachers that were lost. No family should ever suffer the loss of a child in this kind of horrific act of violence.

“The community, and many of the families in it, will be changed forever because of what happened there. I want to look at what we can do in a bipartisan way, as the chair has mentioned, her commitment in that same vein, to prevent another tragedy like this from occurring. During my time on this committee, I've worked with my colleagues to provide significant increases to enhance school safety, expand access to mental health support, and restart gun violence research at both NIH and the CDC.

“We need to continue working together to ensure everyone who has a mental or behavioral health issue can get the treatment they need and when they need it. I also want to say that people with mental health challenges are more likely to be the victims of a crime than they are to be the perpetrators of a crime. But, clearly, there is a thread through these kinds of horrific events where a better mental health support system would have made a difference, and needs to make a difference, and needs to be there for all kinds of reasons, and this is one of them.

“This is my last year in the Senate and my final Department of Education budget hearing. As the first person in my family to graduate from college, as a former teacher, as a former university president, I know firsthand the importance of education, both in an individual's life and in improving our country as a whole.

“As I reflect on my time here working on behalf of Missourians, and for our country, I'm proud to say I've worked to strengthen our education programs that provide the most opportunities to every American. In the K-12 space, I’ve supported programs that provide maximum flexibility for schools to decide how to best use limited resources to address the educational needs of all children and their families. This includes support for key formula programs, such as Title I, IDEA, and Career and Technical Education State Grants.

“During my time as chairman of the committee, or now as the top Republican on the committee, we've increased funding for education formula grants by more than $5.3 billion, that includes an increase of $3.1 billion for Title I and $2 billion for IDEA. I've been a longtime champion of the charter school program, which supports the expansion of innovative high-quality public schools.

“Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever, parents need to be involved, parents want to have the flexibility to choose the school that best meets their child's needs. This is evident, frankly, by the increased enrollment at public charter schools as traditional public school enrollment has declined. Given these trends, as you and I've talked about before, I'm frustrated that your department's moving forward with what I think are overreaching charter school program regulations that would create a chilling effect on the expansion of high-quality public charter schools that families so clearly want to have as an alternative.

“I encourage you to reconsider those regulations. Those funds were set aside specifically by the Congress, to encourage the creation of more charter school opportunities, and your regulations, frankly, make that highly unlikely. I've also spent the last seven years focused on prioritizing investment in bipartisan efforts to promote college access, affordability, and competition.

“With the 50th anniversary of the Pell Grant this year, something the chair just mentioned, I'm proud that we've accomplished a number of things there. Over the past seven Labor/HHS bills, we've increased the maximum Pell Grant award […] by $1,120 to $6,895. This includes increasing the discretionary portion of the maximum Pell Grant Award for five consecutive years through the Labor/HHS bill, which prior to 2018 had not been increased through the appropriation process for a decade.

“With Senator Murray's active help as, at that time, the top Democrat on the authorizing committee as well as the top Democrat on this committee, and Chairman Alexander's assistance as well, who was the chairman of the committee at the time, we also reinstated year-round Pell, a critical tool to help students stay continuously enrolled in school, complete their degree program faster, graduate with less debt, and enter or reenter the workforce more quickly.

“I believe that one of the best ways to reduce the student debt burden is to help students identify post-secondary pathways to career sooner and assist students as they complete their post-secondary education. Investments through this committee in Pell Grants, programs like TRIO and GEAR UP, are and have been crucial to helping students succeed. We built one of the greatest higher education systems in the world in part because the federal government supports it without trying to control it.

“I hope we continue to do that by building on the efforts of the past and not completely rewriting a playbook that's produced great results in terms of the quality of higher education in our country. Therefore, I'm glad to see that this year's budget did not include the misguided proposal to make community college free. As you've heard me say before, if you really want to make college expensive, make it free and have the federal government pay the bill.

“While this budget request doesn't include any specific student loan proposals, I'm alarmed by the potential of what I believe, and what the Speaker of the House and the President have believed and said in the past, would be illegal student loan forgiveness, currently under discussion by the administration. I don't think I'm in the minority when I say that it's really unconscionable that the 85% of Americans who do not have federal student loans would be stuck with the bill for this political giveaway. And if it happens, it's likely to happen between now and Election Day.

“And even worse, loan forgiveness would disproportionately benefit those who can and should be able to pay back their debt. This is evidenced by the fact that the top 40% of households by income hold almost 60% of the student loan debt, while the bottom 40% hold less than 20% of the outstanding debt. Let me reiterate for you and for my colleagues, student loan forgiveness as it's currently being considered and discussed would greatly benefit those who truly are not in need of it. If limited even to $10,000 per borrower and individuals making less than $150,000 per year, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that student loan forgiveness would cost at least $230 billion, and those in the top half of the income scale would receive 71% of the benefits.

“This is on top of the $100 billion dollars that it's already cost the American taxpayers to pause student loans for the past 20 months during the COVID-19 pandemic. To put that in perspective, we can fund the Pell Grant program, which is actually targeted towards low-income students, for more than a decade at the cost of these misguided, regressive policies.

“Finally, student loan forgiveness does nothing to drive down college costs and, in fact, is likely to lead to increased cost and quicker student loan debt accumulation than before, with the expectation that there would be another round of forgiveness in the future. What Americans really need right now is relief from crushing inflation, not more bad policies that will only further drive up inflation. Even the New York Times editorial board agrees that loan forgiveness is quote, 'legally dubious, economically unsound, politically fraught, and educationally problematic.' Ending their quote, I hope the administration will put a pause on this unfair, expensive idea and truly consider who it might be hurting rather than who might be helped.

“Mr. Secretary, as we work through the appropriations process and your 2023 budget request, I hope we can set the partisan politics aside and pass a bill with meaningful investments that support fair access to quality education for all students. I look forward to working with the chair and others on the committee to come up with a product that we can all support before the full committee and before the House. Thank you again, Mr. Secretary, for being here today.”

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