For Duckworth this nation’s security depends on education funding

Terrie Albano, Writer

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran of the Iraq war said to a group of students and faculty from NEIU and other state universities on Oct. 18, that education is vital to the nation’s security, and we need to invest in it like we do with military equipment.

University Professionals of Illinois, a faculty union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, hosted a roundtable discussion on higher education at its downtown offices.

We are right now building a fighter jet called F-55 Fighter Jet. It is 10 years over schedule, and over 100 percent over budget. It was supposed to cost $200 billion. It’s now at $400 billion and counting,” she said.

“And that’s just one weapon system that we are spending money on as taxpayers. If we spent a smidgen of that, just a portion of that, if we just had $50 billion dollars and gave each state $1 billion, that’s what we could do for education, for MAP Grants, for all of these things. And yet we don’t.”

Duckworth, a Democrat from Hoffman Estates, served in the U.S. military and lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq. She is running for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk.

“I served in the military and we have to invest in our Defense Department because we have to lead the free world. But in that discussion of national strength and our role as a global leader, our role as a global democracy, nobody ever talks about education as part of that foundation,” she said.

AFT President Randi Weingarten facilitated the roundtable with university faculty and students from NEIU, Western Illinois University and University of Illinois.

Duckworth spoke about her vision for education, the legislation she has sponsored and her opponent’s voting record and controversial statements. She also took questions from students and local media.

Duckworth grew up in the Chicago suburbs and when her father lost his job, her family became what she described as destitute. During her senior year in high school she was the only one in my family with a job.

She said if it weren’t for the social safety net, like Food Stamps, and the public high school she attended, she wouldn’t be where she is today.

“Thank God it was there. Thank God it was free. And thank God I didn’t have to win a lottery ticket to get into it,” Duckworth said.

Even during that tough year Duckworth said, “I had hope. I knew if I finished high school, I could go to college.”

Duckworth, along with Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin — are sponsors of “In the Red” Act, which would allow students to refinance their debt at a lower rate, increases Pell Grants and community college funding.

According to Duckworth, Kirk not only has refused to support the proposed act, he said it was an entitlement.

She said her plan for free community college would be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes, where CEOs get millions of dollars in bonuses but the businesses skirt paying taxes on it. “It doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime,”she said.

Duckworth added that the $1.3 trillion in student debt, which tops credit card debt, drags down the economy and something has to be done about it, adding that Illinois is no. 8 in the nation with most student debt held.

Patricia Burchfield an NEIU senior and double major in English and Spanish, said she is looking at about $40,000 in loans by the time she graduates. But in a sense, she said, it is a privilege because some students are locked out of borrowing.

“I go to a college where a lot of student can’t apply for loans,” she said. According to Burchfield, students can’t apply for loans because either they don’t meet the financial criteria or they are undocumented. “Will the funding include undocumented students?” she asked.

Duckworth said, “Some of it will and some of it won’t.”

The congresswoman did point to a program at Harper College that includes undocumented students. Harper College is in the district she represents in Congress and other education and immigration bills that she supports.

Duckworth has been at the receiving end of racist and xenophobic comments. At the Illinois Senate Debate on Oct. 30, she said that her family has served this nation in uniform going back to the Revolution.

“I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington,” said Kirk in his debate response.