Labor Day blessings to you all!!
I’ve been distracted. Participating in General Convention, a visit to my daughter’s in Massachusetts, and getting ready for the beginning of the new academic year contributed to my lack of focus on other things – like the monthly reminder for “For Such a time as This” and #PrayFastAct. Well, I’m back now and catching up on all the details that took a backseat to other events in my summer – including the call to support higher education which was the August 21st theme for #PrayFastAct.
Remember “For Such a Time as This”? If not – or if you’re new to our blog – this is the movement that asks us all to join together in prayer, fasting and advocacy for various causes on the 21st of each month until the end of the 115th Congress in December 2018. The 21st of the month was chosen because it is generally by that time in month that 90% of SNAP benefits run out for families. This campaign began in May of 2017 and since then we’ve addressed themes including support for our veterans, world hunger concerns, foreign assistance, refugee resettlement, and environmental sustainability just to name a few.
According to the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN), every year Congress must reauthorize current higher education legislation or propose new legislation. H.R. 4508, Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER), was the act introduced last December (December 1, 2017). According to EPPN: “While the bill seeks to make higher education more affordable by eliminating loan origination fees and offering $300 more in Pell grants, these benefits are outweighed by other provisions…” From the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations we learn:
Pray Fast Act: Accessible and Equitable Higher Education
The U.S. economy and way of life depends on the education system to provide opportunities for a prosperous future. Education is a foundation needed to create a stable income, better wellbeing, and security for individuals and their families. According to the U.S. Department of Education, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree will earn 66 percent more than individuals with only high school diplomas.
Unfortunately, higher education is not accessible, equitable or affordable for everyone, particularly for those with low incomes, people of color, and working – class individuals. The Episcopal Church is committed to equal opportunity in education at every level from early childhood to advanced degrees. When people must choose between food and a home for their family today or the long – term benefits of education, we as a nation are responsible for the perpetuation of poverty. The lack of public funding for education is a barrier that supports a fundamentally unequal economic order.
Each fiscal year Congress must reauthorize current higher education legislation or introduce new legislation. They introduced H.R. 4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act on December 1, 2017.
The bill does give voice to student organizations, defines hate-speech provisions, creates campus-climate surveys, and improves reporting for sexual assaults on campus. Yet, while the bill seeks to make higher education more affordable by eliminating loan origination fees and offering $300 more in Pell grants, these benefits are outweighed by other provisions like those detailed below. Students would end up paying more for already unaffordable higher education due to the cuts to government programs.
Federal funding of loans makes education more accessible for many families. Without these federally backed loans, many students would no longer be able to make ends meet if they undertake a program, leaving even more people without access to the long-term benefits of education because of financial constraints.
Many students must take out loans to continue their education.
Historically these costs have been reduced by federally subsidized loans that do not accrue interest while students are enrolled. Expenses that come with college include tuition, books and fees, travel, room and board, living costs, etc. The PROSPER Act would eliminate subsidized loans. This would significantly increase the cost of education by charging interest on loans during the years a student is still in school before the economic benefits of their education begin.
The PROSPER Act would cut funding for the federal TRiO Programs, which provide services and assistance for low-income students, first-generation students, and people with disabilities.
The Supplementary Education Opportunity Grant Program (SEOG)
The PROSPER Act could eliminate need-based grants that help low-income undergraduate students finance the costs of their education. Students can receive these grants if they are attending a participating postsecondary institution. When making SEOG awards, the institution must give priority to those students with “exceptional need” (those with the lowest Expected Family Contributions) and those who are also Pell Grant recipients. Under a PROSPER Act move to a single grant program (“One Grant”), the specialized SEOG would be eliminated making it easier for these students to fall through the cracks and not receive the opportunities they need.
So, what can we do? Even though it’s past August 21st we can still get involved. It’s never too late to #PrayFastAct! EPPN asks that we “pray alongside those who look to the education system to provide opportunities for a more prosperous future.” I’ve added the Collect for Education from our Book of Common Prayer at the end of the blog. We can “fast in solidarity with all who struggle to gain the education and skills needed to live and thrive in the abundance of our world, particularly those who must choose between education and immediate financial requirements.” And we can act by contacting our legislators asking them to support strong funding for higher education and oppose bills like the PROSPER Act that will reduce opportunities for students who need financial help.
EPPN makes it very easy to reach our lawmakers. Just go to their site, enter your name and address and they will send a letter to your representatives. Here’s a copy of the letter EPPN has created:
I write today in opposition to H.R. 4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act while asking you to support federal programs that create opportunity for all who seek higher education in our country.
As an Episcopalian, I am concerned about the bifurcation occurring in our nation between those with education or formal skills training and those without. In order for our society to succeed all must have an equal opportunity to succeed. Our current and proposed public policies do not support this vision for an equitable and prosperous America. When those families denied opportunity in the past must choose between food and rent today or economic prosperity in years to come – we have chosen to create a systematic mechanism to maintain poverty.
Although the PROSPER Act creates some benefits for students, it does so at too high a cost. Students would end up paying more for an already unaffordable higher education due to the cuts made to opportunity-expanding government programs. Federal funding of loans for many students helps curb the cost of rising tuition. Without it, many students will face possibly insurmountable barriers to higher education. I also ask you support increasing resources and funding for the Department of Education in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Programs FY19 Appropriations Bill.
Thank you for considering my requests and for your service. I look forward to your response.
I just sent mine; won’t you please send yours today?
Let us pray –
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom: Enlighten by your Holy Spirit those who teach and those who learn, that, rejoicing in the knowledge of your truth, they may worship you and serve you from generation to generation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council