On Tuesday, Oklahoma State Representative James Lockhart (D) sent an email to his fellow representatives, explaining the situation of a star student in Oklahoma, Austin, who has a 4.39 GPA, 32 ACT, 98 ASVAB, but doesn’t qualify for Pell Grants. His parents can't afford to send him to college, and the scholarships he received from Oklahoma University only cover a small portion of the tuition.
Upon receiving this email, Representative Mike Reynolds (R) replied to Lockhart, stating the following:
"It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education. It is not the responsibility of me, you, or any constituent in my district to pay for his or any other persons education. Their GPA, ACT ASAB, determination have nothing to do with who is responsible. Their potential to benefit society is irrelevant."
Reynolds' comments show that he believes that it is not his job to improve the lives of his own constituents.
No, it is not his job to pay for another person’s education. However, that doesn’t mean that it is not a legislator's job to see that more people have access to higher education. The state of the higher education system in this country is dismal. Tuition rates are high and student debt is on the rise, currently approaching almost $1 trillion. To ignore the potential benefit of students that have worked hard throughout high school and can be the future leaders and innovators of our country is sheer folly.
The Oklahoma legislature currently has a program called the "Oklahoma Promise," which helps Oklahomans pay for college in order to encourage more enrollment in higher education. However, despite this, Rep. Reynolds refuses to see how it is important to help star students, like Austin, attend college. His potential is "irrelevant."
It is no secret that tuition rates have skyrocketed over the past few years, even for state schools that provide in-state tuition. If state representatives refuse to help their constituents find better ways of receiving financial aid and paying for college, then who will? Whose job is it to help decrease the cost of tuition, even at state universities? Whose job is it to help star students go on to higher education, if not our representatives?
As Lockhart states in his reply to Reynolds, legislators are doing a "poor job of improving the lives of the people [they] represent." He also agrees in this reply that is not their responsibility to "pay" for others' education. However, Lockhart retorts that the state gives out "over $5 billion each year" in tax credits to companies that don’t really need it instead of to higher education.
Moreover, there are ways of helping students pay for college that don't necessitate tax increases. Legislators should be working on reforms to ease student loan debt, to decrease tuition rates, and to increase access to financial aid and scholarships.
Our representatives do have a responsibility to look out for the best interests of their constituents, interests that include access to higher education. That is why they were elected in the first place. By the people, for the people.