Guest opinion: Aid to low-income students pays off for lifetime

2011-04-16T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Aid to low-income students pays off for lifetime

By ZACH HAWKINS‌

The Billings Gazette
April 16, 2011 12:00 am  • 

In an ongoing battle over federal budget cuts, the U.S. Senate’s decision to oppose House Resolution 1 — legislation that would have cut funding for education and financial aid programs geared toward millions of disadvantaged students and low-income families — signals a win for all Americans. However, I think we, the residents of Montana, should be concerned that Rep. Denny Rehberg supported this bill.

The U.S. House majority-sponsored bill would have crushed educational opportunities for many students by cutting the Pell grants they depend on to help pay the rising cost of college tuition and fees. Also, H.R. 1 threatened to significantly slash funding for TRIO and GEAR UP programs, which have both proven to be touchstones for helping students access and complete post-secondary education.

Why propose legislation that cuts billions of dollars designed to help the most disadvantaged Americans at a time when they need help the most? Attempts to pass bills jeopardizing the existence of programs necessary to make America competitive globally are reckless. Short-term political gain should not be at the root of decisions that will impact the long-term economic stability and national security of America. Montana cannot afford more cuts to higher education. If enacted, HR 1 could eliminate services for almost 6,000 Montana students currently served by the Talent Search and Educational Opportunity Center programs in the near future.

It would be difficult to find many Montanans who would argue against attempts to reduce the federal deficit. As tough decisions will undoubtedly have to be made, we must continue to carefully examine our policymakers’ decisions about what and why they cut and whether or not it will truly reduce deficits in the long term. Investing in education has proven to be a good long-term solution to deficits as it helps raise incomes and revenue collections over time.

Educating our impoverished — and often marginalized — population has the added benefit of saving on social and correctional costs in the long term. So while HR1 may appear to be a serious attempt to cut deficits on the surface, we should be willing to applaud those lawmakers who examine it with a longer view of its impact on Montana residents, America’s citizens and the deficit as a whole.

The leadership displayed by Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester, who voted down the proposed cuts in the destructive H.R. 1, is one such commendable example. I know that low-income families and students across Montana commend them for taking this stand and voting to keep critical funding in our communities.

Rehberg has stated his support for the TRIO programs in Montana. I hope we can count on him to display this support by voting against any future proposed cuts as Congress continues to battle on spending in the coming weeks. Students in Montana and the rest of the country are depending on it.

Zach Hawkins, associate Director of the Montana Tech Upward Bound Program, is president of the Montana Association of TRIO Professionals. The 2011 budget deal Congress and the White House were finalizing this week cuts TRIO by $25 million nationwide.

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