Fighting for affordable higher education

Across the Commonwealth this June, Pennsylvania students have joined their classmates, teachers and families to celebrate high school graduation.   I want to congratulate the Class of 2011 for their hard work and achievement. 

Together, we can also celebrate some great news for Pennsylvania college students.  On June 16, 2011, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) contributed $50 million to the Commonwealth for use in the Pennsylvania State Grant Program.  PHEAA has funded the supplement with its business earnings, at no cost to taxpayers, which will grow maximum award amounts by approximately $700 and increase the number of grant recipients in the 2011-2012 academic year.  PHEAA’s contribution will help Pennsylvania to invest in its people and bring down the cost of college for more students.

As many graduates prepare to continue their education, I understand why families have deep concerns about the rising cost of college.  I believe that anyone with the drive and desire to pursue the opportunities afforded by higher education should be able to realize that dream, regardless of their personal financial situation.  In recent decades, however, tuition has grown at an alarming rate.  Since 1988, college tuition has increased almost 130%.  From 1996 to 2008, the share of family income required to support a student paying the average price at a public four-year institution increased from 14.4% to 27.8%.  For many families, that soaring price tag translates into onerous debt and financial uncertainty.

I share the goal of many parents to support my daughters as they pursue higher education.  As a U.S. Senator, I have fought to keep that dream within reach for all Pennsylvania families.   Pell Grants are the single largest source of financial assistance for higher education provided by the federal government.  I successfully supported the increase in the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,550 per year, while joining my colleagues to ensure the program’s long-term financial sustainability.  As a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, I have also worked to ensure that excellent schools prepare students for the academic rigor of college, and enable them to complete their degree within four years.

Education is an investment in the Commonwealth and the nation, as a well-educated workforce is the foundation for a strong and competitive American economy.  Please rest assured that the graduates of the Class of 2011, their families, and all Pennsylvania students are on my mind as I continue to fight for affordable higher education.

National Dairy Month

Over the past month, dairy farmers and consumers throughout Pennsylvania have been celebrating National Dairy Month. June highlights the importance of dairy farmers and the role they play in our community. Whether enjoying cheese and crackers with your friends during a cookout or taking your family for ice cream on a hot afternoon, we have all experienced the wonderful dairy products that our local dairy farmers produce every day.

The dairy industry is central to our state’s agricultural economy, contributing more than 1.5 billion dollars each year and generating 40,000 jobs. Research estimates that roughly 85% of the dairy farmer’s total income is spent locally, which makes dairy farms a significant contributor to the local economy.

I recognize that in these tough economic times, many Pennsylvanians are concerned about the state of the dairy industry. I will continue to support dairy farmers and their businesses in the next Farm Bill, which is currently under consideration in Congress.

The First Day of Summer

Today marks the first day of summer. And that reminds me of the outdoors, gardening, fresh fruits and vegetables and farmers’ markets. As a member of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and the Chair of the Subcommittee on Hunger, Nutrition and Family Farms, I support farmers’ markets and understand the importance of their efforts to bring nutritious locally grown produce and products to the tables of many Pennsylvanians.  I encourage you to visit your closest farmers’ markets, or a restaurant, or store selling local food - to support your neighboring farmers and enjoy a meal that was locally grown.

Farmers markets are more than stands selling produce in a public space – they create and sustain a unique community. You’re able to get to know your farmer and ask about the food you’re purchasing – often grown by the very person selling it.  Supporting your local economy, promoting your family’s health, and protecting the environment are only a few of the countless benefits of participating in and endorsing farmers’ markets.

The Pennsylvania Buy Fresh Buy Local® website is one of many resources which can help you find out what foods are in season in your area and where to buy fresh, local produce. The PA Preferred website also contains helpful information about produce in season, recipes and fun facts about Pennsylvania agriculture.

STEM Education in Philadelphia

On May 1st, the West Philly Hybrid X Team of West Philadelphia High School was awarded the Spirit of Innovation Award for their development of the Electric Very Light Car.  I congratulate the West Philly Hybrid X Team on this accomplishment.

The Spirit of Innovation Award, which is sponsored by the Conrad Foundation, challenges young innovators to develop an idea that addresses the future of aerospace exploration, clean energy, or cyber security issues. I am honored to represent Pennsylvanians such as these students, who when given the opportunity, have succeeded in tackling the real-world problems that we face. Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math will help students like those at West Philadelphia High School, meet these challenges.  I believe that investing in science and math education now will support future innovation and prepare students for the jobs of the future.

The West Philly Hybrid X Team has worked tirelessly to develop a new hybrid car model, called the Edison2, which is based on the Edison electric car.  The diligence, dedication, and talent for innovation of these students has propelled them to victory over dozens of competitors, including a number of teams from top-tier Universities. I hope that their incredible success will inspire other young innovators to follow in their entrepreneurial footsteps and develop the green technologies that we need to move our country forward.

Dedication of Armed Services Park in Hanover Township

Northampton

I'd like to commend and congratulate Northampton County on today’s dedication of Armed Services Park in Hanover Township. The Park honors deceased, retired, former, active and future members of the United States Armed Services. With its massive flags visible from afar, this park shows the community’s dedication to honoring the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers and the community’s unwavering commitment to supporting our troops in the field. I am touched that the people of Northampton county came together to honor those who serve our country.

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