Service to our country comes is many different forms. I had the privilege of serving my country in the United States Coast Guard from 1967 through 1971. My wife and I served our country as Peace Corps volunteers in the southern African country of Lesotho from 1979 through 1982. For the past 30 years, I have had the highest privilege of serving thousands of children in the Elk Grove Unified School District.
Dan Lungren chose a different but equally important path of serving. He chose a career in politics and government. Since 2005, he has represented the people of California's 3rd Congressional District. Let’s take a look at just how well Congressman Lungren has done with the privilege of serving his constituents, especially in the area so dear to me and so important to our nation’s future, education.
The connection between educational levels and a strong, vibrant economy is irrefutable. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2011 that the unemployment rate for high school dropouts was 14.1 percent, for those with a high school diploma 9.4 percent, and for those with a college BA degree 4.9 percent. The median weekly income for a college graduate was nearly twice that of a high school graduate.
Based on his voting record, Congressman Lungren apparently doesn’t see the connection between education and the economy.
No people are more vulnerable than our youngest and our poorest. Programs like Head Start are extremely successful in helping children from low-income families build the skills necessary to handle the learning they’ll encounter in elementary school. Dan Lungren voted to eliminate Head Start for 14,000 low-income children in his district. He also voted to cut $125 million from California K-12 education and to eliminate after-school programs that serve 26,000 California students. That begs the question: How well has Congressman Lungren served our pre-school and K-12 students?
At a recent town-hall gathering, Congressman Lungren lectured a young college student who shared her concerns about the high cost of a college education. To pay for her education, this student has a part-time job and has taken out numerous student loans. Dan Lungren derisively told the student that his wife put herself through college by holding down three part-time jobs.
Since Congressman Lungren and I are about the same age, I certainly can relate to his wife’s hard work and determination to complete college 40 years ago. When my military service ended in 1971, I began working toward a college degree. During those college years, the GI Bill and part-time work allowed me to earn a degree and a California teaching credential without the need for student loans.
But here’s what Dan Lungren fails to recognize: That was then, this is now! Community college tuition in the 1970s was zero, and the tuition at San Diego State University, where I attended, was a whopping $150 per year.
Today’s college students face an entirely different world. Yearly tuition for undergraduates at Sacramento State University is nearly $7,000; at UC Davis it’s $14,000. A college education for many middle-class and low-income students has become virtually impossible without financial assistance from student loans and Pell Grants. Today, the average college graduate loan debt is $21,000.
So what has Dan Lungren done to make a college education more affordable? Well, he hasn’t. On the contrary, he’s voted to double federal student loan rates, and to cut $55 million from Pell Grants, cutting financial aid to one-third of California’s undergraduates. How well has Congressman Lungren served our college students?
Most people understand education’s effect on people’s lives and our economy. It’s the cornerstone of American democracy. Unfortunately, Congressman Lungren doesn’t get it. He’s willing to save a dime now to diminish future opportunities for our children and to lose future economic growth.
It’s time to save our most vulnerable, our Head Start children, our K-12 and college students, and the middle class from Dan Lungren’s service. It’s time to say goodbye to Congressman Lungren and hello to Congressman Bera.
Dan Schmitt is the Secretary of the Elk Grove-South County Democratic Club and cofounder of Progressive Americans for Truth. He's also a retired teacher and coaches JV baseball at Franklin High School.