As someone who worked in education for more than 40 years, I have experienced a growing unease during this election season.  Education is the key for unlocking individual potential, for fueling a vibrant economy and for creating engaged citizens. 

Washington employers are telling us how critical this is.  The Washington Roundtable, for example, has set a goal for 70 percent of Washingtonians to have a postsecondary credential (a degree, apprenticeship or certificate) by 2030. Today, only 40 percent of our high school students earn that by age 26. Their “Washington Kids for Washington Jobs” report contends if we don’t accomplish this, our young people won’t be able to fill our state’s high-skilled job openings.

Yet, it appears our current administration is making this type of progress harder. For example, scaling back student loan regulations exposes students to greater risks.

 The House Republicans are advancing a plan that would make higher education less affordable. In a time when our employers are telling us they need more employees with more education in order to fill the jobs of the future, why are our leaders making it harder and harder to get an education? Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers has voted, in support of the administration, to raise student loan interest rates and to cut grant support for our most vulnerable students. This runs counter to the needs of Eastern Washington and our entire state.

During my tenure in education, I worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle. As both a superintendent of public schools and as a chancellor of a community college system, I had a front row seat to seeing the positive impact of previous bipartisan policy on education. As I watch the events of today, out of frustration, I am concerned we are adrift. Therefore, I feel compelled to express my disappointment in our current congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and my support for her challenger, Lisa Brown.

Six million young people (18-29) didn’t vote in 2016. It’s our responsibility to reach out to young people, to engage with them, to invite them into our community dialogues about our shared future. The Spokesman-Review reported on Sept. 12 that, not only has McMorris-Rodgers minimally visited college campuses during this election season, she also refused the invitation for a campus-sponsored debate at Gonzaga University. 

This is wrong. What better venue for political discourse than college campuses, talking to our future about their future. College campuses embody the ideals our democracy is founded on, the ideas of ideological debate and the opportunity to expose important issues to public scrutiny.

Lisa Brown, in contrast, has planned a tour to visit all regional campuses and engage with students about their issues and concerns. She also expressed, in a recent Sept. 16 editorial, her strong support for making post-secondary education of all types more affordable and accessible to our youth. She supports important efforts to lower the interest rates on federal student loans and to expand loan forgiveness programs. 

As an economist, Brown understands the critical link between access to education and a strong economy. As a former professor and chancellor, she understands higher education and as a former legislator, she helped pass legislation that increased access to education for students. As a first-generation college student, Brown also knows the difficulty of figuring out how to pay for college and the important investment our federal government can make to support students —an investment that yields a powerful return.

We all have a stake in engaging our youth and in ensuring more of them can get the training they need for the future of our economy. We need a leader in the 5th Congressional District who will be an advocate for these issues in Congress. I have worked with Brown on political and educational issues for over 25 years. I believe she is that leader. She has the vision and the courage to represent the 5th District.

Gary A Livingston is a retired K-12  superintendent & community college administrator.

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