While Congress and the President must work to reduce our nation's deficit, I believe that we cannot balance the federal budget on the backs of our nation's most vulnerable populations: the poor, the sick, the elderly, and our nation's children and youth.

As Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, I have fought to expand accessibility and affordability in higher education, and I am proud of the strides we have made in this area in the past several years.

The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 made the largest investment in student financial aid ever, increased the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,550, provided landmark investments in Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) and community colleges and guarantees students access to low-cost federal college loans through the Direct Loan Program.

During my tenure in Congress, I have worked tirelessly to protect vital federal programs like Head Start, Pell Grants, GEAR-UP, HEP-CAMP, TRIO, adult education as well as targeted funding for disadvantaged students, English Language Learners, students with disabilities, migrant students, and MSIs.

This education funding has gone a long way in improving our schools, supporting the education of our most vulnerable children, and in expanding accessibility and affordability for low-income, first generation college students, and minority students.

However, I must tell you that I am extremely disappointed with the Republican draft FY 2012 House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill that was released earlier this month. Its drastic reductions in education funding are unacceptable and will not serve our country well.

Earlier this year I co-sponsored the Graduation Promise Act of 2011 which is designed to reform the nation's low performing high schools and to lay a solid foundation for America's economic future. In the coming months, our nation must demonstrate that it will invest in the future of our country by maintaining a strong commitment to education funding and to equity.

We must always be ready to fund educational programs that work. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, the dropouts from the class of 2010 alone will cost our economy $337 billion in lost wages over their lifetimes. Keep in mind that the unemployment rate for individuals without a high school diploma was 15.7 percent, compared to 10.0 percent for high school graduates, 8.7 percent for individuals with some college credits or an associate's degree, and 5 percent for individuals with a bachelor's degree or higher.

On Pell Grants for college students, the GOP plan does maintain the total maximum grant at the current level of $5,550. However, it makes a long series of amendments to the authorizing law governing Pell Grants (and, in some cases student loans and other financial aid as well), which allow the appropriation to be cut $2.3 billion below the FY 2011 amount. This will reduce the Pell Grant by hundreds of dollars, per student, putting many of our adult students who are independent of their parents in a very bad financial situation.

Another example of these blind cuts is an 83% decrease in federal funding for Hispanic-Serving Institutions. These institutions are graduating the majority of the Hispanic students in this country. Hispanic students already lag far behind their peers in high school graduation, college completion and graduate degree attainment. When the US Census Bureau predicts that by 2020, more than half of the new workers in the US workforce will be Hispanic, we are seriously jeopardizing our economic future by cutting our modest investments in their future.

And then there are the programs which Republicans propose to eliminate: (Source: Committee for Education Funding)

Mathematics and Science Partnerships

Ready-to-Learn television

Promise Neighborhoods

Vocational rehabilitation Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers

Strengthening Predominantly Black Institutions

Strengthening Asian American Pacific Islander Institutions

Strengthening Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions

Strengthening Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions

Strengthening Tribal Colleges

Programs Republicans want to cut:

State Grants for Improving Teacher Quality = -$24.7 million (-1%)

Education for Native Hawaiians = -$14.2 million (-41.6%)

Hispanic Serving Institutions = -$87 million (-83.3%)

Strengthening Historically Black Colleges (HBCUs) =-$85 million ?(-35.9%)

As a first-generation college student, I am well aware of the value of an education and how it can transform lives and renew hope. Let us move forward with an educated population and a stronger economy.