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Most of South Dakota’s students are back in the swing of the school year. Whether your child is beginning kindergarten or just moved into their first dorm room to begin freshman year at college, education - from pre-K to secondary - is central to the American way and our progress as a nation.

Everyone’s education experience is unique. If you grew up in Rapid City, you may have graduated in a class along with several hundred other students – if you grew up in a rural community, you may have had half-a-dozen siblings or cousins in school with you. You may have also been one of South Dakota’s many homeschool families. It’s easy to forget that the experiences of others are often staggeringly different than your own. The movies usually depict fresh out of high school suburban kids as the model college student, but in reality, more than 37% of today’s college students are over the age of 25 and only 13% of students live on campus.

As a new member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in dozens of hearings and listen to witnesses from all walks of life. Earlier this year during a hearing on college tuition prices, I was impacted by the testimony of Ms. Parker, a single parent and college student. More than 24% of college students nationwide are parents, and an even higher percentage of those parents are single mothers. Ms. Parker is one of those mothers and she shared the difficulty of navigating college, working multiple jobs at a time, and using childcare all on her own.

Ms. Parker isn’t alone – her story is the story of so many young parents and single mothers in the United States. More than 38% of students with family, financial, or work obligations leave school in their first year. A postsecondary education or trade is more important than ever to succeed in today’s economy. And access to affordable child care can be a great enabler for parents to pursue a postsecondary education and get a higher paying job.

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Currently, colleges and technical schools utilize Strengthening Institutions Program grants to expand student services for low-income students. However, this program is limited, and the Department of Education’s Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program is limited to campus-based child care. Parents pursuing higher education often need to attend classes and need accessible child care available to them outside of the traditional 9-5, so we need to find ways for colleges and technical institutes to access resources to accommodate their respective student-parent population.

When I get back to Washington in September, I plan to introduce the Empower Parents in College Act, which will provide flexibility for parents and universities to partner with a local child care provider to offer untraditional child care services to their student-parent population.

The Empower Parents in College Act would allow colleges and technical institutes that serve low-income students to apply for existing grant funds from the Strengthening Institutions Program. If Congress can add flexibility for college student-parents at no extra cost to the program, it should be a no-brainer. I look forward to keeping you posted as this legislation progresses.

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