by Amanda Litvinov
In one of his last official acts, U.S. Representative Donald Payne (D-NJ) became a co-sponsor of the Dream Act, a bipartisan bill that would provide a path to legal status for high school graduates who enlist in the armed forces or attend college.
This last piece of work represents much of what was important to Payne, who passed away early this morning at age 77. During his long career in public service, he was known for speaking up for the disadvantaged and ardently promoted expanding access to education, from early childhood programs to college.
A senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Payne was a longtime opponent of school voucher schemes, which drain essential resources from public schools. He asked key questions during this summer’s subcommittee hearing on charter school expansion regarding the effects on underserved populations. He also introduced positive measures that support educators and students, including the TIME Act, to help schools expand learning time.
“He helped New Jersey students get a head start on academics by providing aid for early childhood education and after-school programs,” said New Jersey Education Association president Barbara Keshishian.
“Representative Payne was always accessible to NJEA members, who share fond memories of his life and public service. His voice, experience and wise leadership will be sorely missed.”
Congressman Payne was also instrumental in making higher education more affordable for countless Americans. He pushed for the passage of the Obama administration’s College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which increased Pell grants and provided loan forgiveness to public service employees with student loan debt.
Before he was a champion for educators, students, and working families on Capitol Hill, Payne was a public school teacher in the Newark and Passaic school systems.