A conversation with U.S. Senator and education champion Sherrod Brown, Ohio


by Mary Ellen Flannery

Sherrod Brown, who is completing his first term as a United States Senator for the state of Ohio, recently answered several education-related questions from EdVotes.org.

EdVotes.org:  Your bill to freeze student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent was signed into law this summer by President Barack Obama, saving about 382,000 Ohio students from an even bigger student-debt load. Why was this piece of legislation such an important issue for you? And what else do you think Congress should do to help make college more affordable?

Senator Brown:  Hundreds of thousands of Ohio students shouldn’t have to pay more for their education when college costs are already on the rise. Allowing the interest rates on federal student loans to double would’ve been salt in the wound for those who are already likely to graduate with thousands of dollars in loan debt. We should be doing everything we can to make higher education more affordable, not less.

EdVotes.org:  Ohio is one of 24 states that has received a waiver for key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, giving teachers and school administrators more flexibility to deliver quality instruction to Ohio students. What would you like to see happen in the reauthorization of NCLB?

Senator Brown: I was pleased that Ohio was awarded a waiver for several No Child Left Behind requirements and believe that a complete reauthorization of NCLB is long overdue. My priorities for reauthorization include strengthening the alignment of early childhood education from pre-school through third grade, improving the collection of longitudinal data so that students who are at risk of dropping out can be identified early, and ensuring the appropriate professional development opportunities are available for teachers and administrators.

EdVotes.org:  Last year, the federal Community College and Career Training Grant Program awarded $500 million in grants — including millions to Cincinnati State Technical and Community College — to develop programs for future health professionals. How do you see Ohio community college and job training programs like these fitting into Ohio’s economic recovery?

Senator Brown:  Community colleges play a fundamental role in improving our nation’s economy. Too many employers are looking to hire but facing challenges finding employees with the necessary skills. Community colleges can play a critical role in closing this gap. For this reason, I introduced the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act, which would provide funds to encourage key stakeholders, including industry, higher education, and labor, to work together to address these skill gaps and ensure employees are prepared for the available jobs.

EdVotes.org:  In 2012, state funding for Ohio’s public institutions of higher education dropped 12 percent. Those kinds of cuts led to higher tuitions, program closures, and faculty and staff layoffs. How do you think we can address these issues?

Senator Brown:  There are always tough decisions when it comes to Ohio’s budget, but we can’t address budgetary problems by shorting our education system. We need to make sure that politicians in Columbus are fighting the right fights, and cutting education is never the way to go.

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EdVotes.org:  Last year, you introduced the Fix America’s Schools Today (FAST) Act, which would pay to fix leaky roofs and crumbling classrooms in neglected schools and community colleges. Is this an issue you’re going to continue to push? How do you think investments in infrastructure can be helpful?

Senator Brown:  I’ll never stop fighting to ensure that our schools are safe places that facilitate an environment that best allows our children to accomplish the goal of getting a quality education. Too many schools have outdated heating and cooling systems, and a variety of other problems that we need to fix. We can create jobs by investing in infrastructure while making our schools a better place at the same time.

EdVotes.org:  We know kids can’t learn if they’re hungry, and you’ve done a lot of work to make sure needy children have access to free meals at schools. But there are still far too many children whose basic needs are unmet. What’s your hope for these children, and how do you think educators can help you realize that hope?

Senator Brown:  Teachers, administrators and support staff are often the first to identify when a student’s basic needs are not getting addressed at home. For this reason, it is important that all school faculty and staff are able to both identify students in need of assistance and provide them with wraparound services such as nutritious meals, health care and weather appropriate clothing. For this reason, I introduced the Developing Innovative Partnerships and Learning Opportunities that Motivate Achievement (DIPLOMA) Act, which would provide funds to schools that collaborate with outside organizations, businesses, higher education institutions, and parents to develop strategies that ensure that all students have the access to the resources they need to succeed academically.

EdVotes.org:  Talk about a teacher who made an impact on you?

Senator Brown:  Mr. Pugh taught me about the Great Books, and Mr. McBride and Mrs. Ryckman taught me to ask questions about history and to challenge authority.

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