Improving the ESEA
In December, Congress passed and the President signed into law a bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and replacing the widely-criticized No Child Left Behind Act. This bipartisan legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act, contains a number of reforms that will provide students with a high-quality, twenty-first century education. Not only does it avoid an overzealous focus on "teaching to the test," but it also includes a provision from the No Child Left Inside Act that will allow educators to access federal grants for environmental education programs. I will continue to work with the Department of Education to ensure our schools have the guidance they need to successfully implement the new law.
No Child Left Inside
Congressman Sarbanes is a national leader in the movement to promote environmental education, which he believes is critical to empowering and inspiring the next generation of scientists, teachers and environmental stewards. Research shows that hands-on environmental education has a positive impact on student achievement in science, math and social studies. However, budgetary issues are forcing schools to scale back or eliminate environmental programs, leaving many students without the benefit of environmental education.
To provide meaningful outdoor education experiences for students across the country, Congressman Sarbanes authored and introduced the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI), H.R. 2702. NCLI aims to improve education in our nation’s schools and to protect our environment by creating a new environmental education grant program, expanding access to existing science education funding for environmental education programming and promoting teacher professional development. NCLI also requires states that participate in the environmental education grant program to develop a K-12 plan to ensure that high school graduates are environmentally literate. The legislation is supported by a coalition of over 2,200 local, regional and national organizations representing millions of concerned citizens eager to see a serious commitment to environmental education.
Keeping College Affordable
Many working families continue to struggle with the costs of higher education, and their children are entering a workforce that often demands a college degree. Congress is working with colleges and universities to find ways to combat the increasing cost of tuition. As part of this effort, colleges are now reporting to Congress on the causes of tuition increases and must provide students with fair and full information about their borrowing options when taking out and repaying student loans, including the terms and conditions of both federal and private student loans. They must also provide students with advance information on textbook pricing to help them plan for expenses before each semester. As a national leader in strengthening student financial literacy, the State of Maryland is also implementing curriculum requirements to provide instruction on the subject for all students in grades 3-12.
Strengthening Financial Aid Programs
Congress passed legislation to simplify and streamline the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. It is now an easy-to-navigate two-page form. The FAFSA form is created by the U.S. Department of Education and is the primary mechanism to access federal financial aid for education. Congress has also expanded opportunities to access financial literacy and support services so that once students arrive at school, they have the tools to complete their education and receive a degree.
Honoring the service of our military families, Congressman Sarbanes is working with colleagues in Congress to enhance the Montgomery GI Bill program, keeping it up-to-date with modern-day costs of a higher education by creating a scholarship program for the children and spouses of active-duty military service members or veterans. Congress is also working to support the next generation of teachers by providing tuition assistance to students who commit to teaching in public schools located in underserved communities.
Making Student Loan Repayment Affordable
Many who are fortunate to earn a degree still grapple with student loan debt long after they graduate. This debt burden often forecloses many career options and delays major purchases like cars and homes, which in turn produces a drag on the national economy. To address this issue, Congressman Sarbanes authored the law creating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which provides forgiveness of remaining student loan debt after 10 years of repayment while working full-time in public service. Public service careers include teachers, first responders, health professionals, civil servants, public interest attorneys and many others in nonprofit-sector jobs that are important and rewarding, but often not particularly lucrative.
Under this program, individuals with federal direct- or direct-consolidated student loan debt can apply for an income-based repayment (IBR) plan to cap monthly loan payments at no more than 10 or 15 percent of their income. If they make regular payments and remain in public service for ten years, these individuals will receive significant loan forgiveness.
For additional information on how the IBR option or the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program may benefit you or someone you know, please visit studentloans.gov/repay.