Students by desk in classroom
Students by desk in classroom

BILLY LONG: Working Together for Rural Students

Editorial by U.S. Rep. Billy Long

As a member of Congress, I’m afforded the opportunity daily to speak from the well of the House and pontificate on anything of my choosing. I’m also allowed to join in on any debate of any bill we may be considering. I could get really fired up and scream and gesture about how great or how truly awful said bill is. I could act as mad as an old wet hen or put on an air of supremacy that I am the only one in the chamber that truly knows what is best for the American people. You know Motherhood, apple pie, and Billy Long’s thoughts on a subject. If you like seeing yourself on T.V. it’s a great way to go. When I’d go home my constituents at Rosie Jo’s, Granny Shaffer’s, Cracker Barrel, or Gateway Cafe would all be telling me how good I’d done when they were watching me on C-Span. Many politicians choose this method of leading but I’m not a politician, I’m a Congressman. As a Congressman, I like to work effectively not theatrically. My thought of how career politicians do it is – what a waste of time. You see the dirty little secret is approximately 99.796% of the time not one person changes their mind on how they are going to vote on a bill based on the debate on the floor. The reading, cussing, and discussing of a bill is done in our office with C-Span on the T.V. but on mute. Usually with the assistance of four or five staffers so as to not miss any nuances in the bill or unexpected consequences. Another inside baseball secret is when you first get elected to Congress you’re told whatever you do, don’t ever mention your staff. Why? I asked. Because you want the folks back home to think you’re the Congressman and you’re doing this all on your own. My first thought was ‘That’s nuts!’ My second thought was ‘I’m gonna start today bragging on my staff and never let up. I did and I haven’t. Well, admittedly that’s a long way around the barn to tell you I like to spend my time actually making a difference by doing things that matter and not by doing things that only make it look like I’m being effective. Working effectively means working with like-minded folks that truly want results on either side of the aisle. Need someone to work with you on good policy? I’m your guy. 

Believe it or not, bipartisanship still exists in Washington D.C. When Republicans and Democrats can work on good legislation together, it is something I like to highlight. In hyper-partisan times, members of Congress should demonstrate that we can work across the aisle on legislation that can improve lives. The Success for Rural Students and Communities Act is one of those things.

This bill is a classic example of Congress identifying a problem and working in a bipartisan fashion to address it. In many aspects of life, people in rural communities feel that they are left behind and that more opportunities are afforded to their urban counterparts. Unfortunately, this tends to be true more often than it should be. In the case of accessing higher education, it is. The problem here is that students from rural communities graduate from high school at rates that exceed the national average yet attend college at a lower rate than students from urban and suburban areas. This is because urban and suburban students have significantly more access to opportunities and resources to learn about and apply for college. The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased this educational attainment gap.

To address this gap, members from both sides of the aisle, including myself, came together to introduce the Success for Rural Students and Communities Act. Led by House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), this bill seeks to address the problem of postsecondary enrollment in rural communities by providing resources for rural students to learn more about these opportunities. If signed into law, this bill would provide early support for rural students such as educational counseling, expose them to higher education programs, give them access to dual enrollment, and provide support for the students as they transition out of high school and into postsecondary education programs.

This bill not only aims to support rural students, but also rural communities. This legislation emphasizes local partnerships that would help create development strategies and connect students with local employers. Bringing students back to their communities after they graduate will bring highly skilled workers to rural communities, allowing local talent to contribute to the community’s economic growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the educational gap between rural and urban students and highlighted the need for more resources to allow rural students to succeed. When students in rural communities are graduating from high school at a higher rate but not attending college at the same or higher rate than urban and suburban students, we have a clear problem. It is encouraging to see members from both sides of the aisle come together to identify this problem and introduce a solution that will fix it. This legislation will help us close the attainment gap that persists between rural and urban communities and it is something that both Republicans and Democrats can be proud of. I support this legislation whole heartedly and look forward to it moving forward. 

For more information on my activities in our district and in Washington I encourage you to follow my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Rep.Billy.Long and my Twitter page at https://twitter.com/USRepLong. You can also subscribe to my weekly newsletter, “Long’s Short Report,” by visiting https://longforms.house.gov/newsletter-and-email-updates-form

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