Rep. Ron Kind On The Future Of Pell Grants, Making Sports Safe For LGBTQ Athletes

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We hear from US Representative Ron Kind, a Democrat representing the 3rd congressional district in western Wisconsin about why he thinks a return to year-round Pell grant availability is important. Also, Hudson Taylor founded the group Athlete Ally to help make sports safe and welcoming for LGBTQ athletes. We find out why he has chosen to devote his time and energy to this issue, and where he’s seen signs of success.

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  • Rep. Kind Calls For Growing Pell Grant Program, Alleviating Student Debt

    As the cost of college has skyrocketed, so has the student debt burden. The latest statistics put total student debt at nearly $1.28 trillion with more than 44 million Americans in debt for their education.

    Student debt and spiraling tuition costs have been something schools and lawmakers have been attempting to alleviate for some time. Among the lawmakers seeking to find solutions to the student debt crisis is Congressman Ron Kind, a Democrat representing Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District.

    He’s co-sponsoring the All-Year ACCESS Act, which aims to bolster and grow the federal Pell Grant program. This isn’t the first time Kind has championed the grant program. In 2015, he introduced the PELL Grant Funding Act, which never made it past the subcommittee stage.

    Kind has a long appreciation for the federal program which helped him when he was the first in his family to attend college.

    Unlike federal or private loans, Pell Grants do not need to be repaid to the government. They’re awarded based on several factors, including financial need, school costs, the student’s status as either a full or part-time student and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less. The Federal Pell Grant Program awards need-based grants to low-income undergraduate students and some postbaccalaureate students.

    According to the U.S. Department of Education, the maximum Pell Grant in the 2015-16 award year – from July 1 to June 30 – was $5,775.

    While the grants do a lot of good for students, Rep. Kind said there are a number of small changes that can be made to make the program better. Among the changes he’s proposing is to make the program year-round, so students aren’t bound to using the funding only during the fall and spring semesters.

    Giving students the flexibility to finish school early, by taking courses during the summer and using the Pell Grant to defray that cost, could help lighten the debt load, Kind said.

    “You have some nontraditional students that want to jump in, they jump out, whether it’s the local community college or technical school,” Kind said. “And if you make it year-round, you start shaping these programs around the needs of the worker or the student themselves, rather than asking them to fit into a certain block.”

    Kind said that many technical schools in his district have said a more flexible Pell Grant program could be a huge benefit to many of their students, many of whom need a certificate or continuing education.

    He also said he’d like to see the program expand the eligibility requirements in order to provide more funding to more students and make it possible to provide larger grants in order to defray the costs of school and lessen the debt burden.

    Kind said he sees this as a way to help young people out when they need it the most.

    Student loan debt can put “them in a huge financial hole just as they’re starting out their lives or their career or a family,” Kind said. “And it makes it hard, quite frankly, to be good consumers then. To buy a car, to buy a home, or to support the local businesses.”

    Kind said he’s concerned that if student loan debt continues to grow nationwide, that it could be the next economic bubble to burst.

    While Kind would like to see the Pell Grant program be better funded, he does recognize some budgets will need to be trimmed to help bolster the program.

    He pointed to the U.S. Defense Department as being a potential source of extra funds, citing the Pentagon’s own submitted budgets to Congress. In these budgets, he said, they call for getting rid of costly and outdated weapons programs which don’t actually help the DOD against growing threats, such as terrorism.

    “We have to be smarter with the limited resources that we have available,” Kind said. “And I’m a big believer in investing in the next generation so that they can be successful in a competitive, global economy.”

    But, Kind said, Pell Grants are only part of the puzzle in reducing student debt. He also said student loan interest should be reconsidered since he said he doesn’t believe the government should profit from student loan interest and use it fund other departments.

    He said lowering the interest rate, and only using the interest collect to fund the loan program itself, could save students thousands of dollars.

    “It’s a very simple fix that could be made, that wouldn’t cost us a whole lot, but would make a big difference in these students’ lives,” Kind said.

    Other changes Kind would like to see are easy refinance options for students; more tax deductions for students who pay interest on student loans; for states, like Wisconsin, to grow the budget for higher education; and for colleges and universities to find ways to make getting a college degree more affordable.

    “The jobs of the future are going to put a premium on higher education skills and job training skills,” Kind said. “We can’t afford to be leaving anyone behind right now.”

  • Wisconsin Congressman Proposes Legislation To Bolster PELL Grant Program

    As college costs have skyrocketed for families nationwide, some lawmakers are looking for alternatives to help defray the financial load. We speak with Representative Ron Kind (D-WI 3rd District) about his proposed legislation that would help the federal PELL Grant program.

  • 'Athlete Allies' Making Sports More Inclusive For LGBT Teammates

    While sports are occasionally called a “great equalizer”, some groups still experience obstacles to participation and success. In particular, LGBT athletes often encounter discouraging language and hurtful attitudes. On his way to becoming a three-time All-American wrestler, Hudson Taylor saw the pain that this behavior caused, so he founded Athlete Ally, a group working to make sports more inclusive for all. He joins us to talk about the group’s work and the difficulties faced by LGBT athletes.

  • Athlete Ally Works To Make Locker Rooms More Inclusive, Tolerant

    The message emblazoned across a banner carried by female athletes in the Women’s March on Washington last month read, “Equality is a team sport.”

    Athlete Ally, a New York-based nonprofit organization looking to combat homophobia and transphobia in the sports world, organized the group of athletes who carried this banner during the Jan. 21 march.

    It’s one of the recent examples of athletes using their cultural cachet to promote political change, and it’s Hudson Taylor works to advance every day.

    Taylor, a three-time NCAA All-American wrestler, founded Athlete Ally in 2011 to advocate for LGBT rights in sports. He is scheduled to speak Tuesday, Feb. 21 at Camp Randall about the need to make the locker room a more inclusive place for all athletes, regardless of their sexual orientation.

    “I see homophobia as a weapon of sexism. I think a lot of the language stems from improper assumptions about masculinity and femininity,” Taylor told Wisconsin Public Radio. “In sports culture, athletes are taught to rank and measure themselves against their peers. I think homophobic and sexist language becomes a tool to put your peers down and lift yourself up.”

    As a star wrestler at the University of Maryland and a theater major, Taylor recognized a distinct divide in these two groups he split his time with. He found the theater department to be welcoming of LGBT peers. In contrast, he heard his wrestling teammates use homophobic and sexist language.

    To show his solidarity with the LGBT community, Taylor wore a sticker on his wrestling headgear. That single act drew thousands of appreciative emails from closeted athletes, their families and members of the LGBT community. This act of solidarity spawned the creation of Athlete Ally after graduating college, Taylor said.

    “My sport has been my entire life. It’s made me my every friend. It’s opened every door for me,” Taylor said. “This idea that there continues to be an entire population of people who are systemically isolated, excluded or ‘othered’ in sport is a tragedy.”

    Taylor now travels to dozens of college campuses each year to talk with athletes about being more inclusive in their actions and to think about how their choice of language can impact teammates. He also partnered with the NBA to create a program helping rookies understand that to be a good teammate they have to create a welcoming space.

    “The more we can create a culture in which athletes can feel comfortable being themselves, the better the team is going to do, the better legacy we’ll leave behind both on the field and off,” Taylor said.

    The event “LGBTQ Allyhood in Athletics with Hudson Taylor” is from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, at Camp Randall, 1430 Monroe St., Madison.

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Veronica Rueckert Host
  • J. Carlisle Larsen Producer
  • Dean Knetter Producer
  • Representative Ron Kind Guest
  • Hudson Taylor Guest