After years of reckless tax cutting, chronic under funding of critical programs and record annual deficits, it would seem to be time for a new direction for our country’s spending priorities. Sadly, the legislation pushed by the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress this year continues to offer more of the same.

To pay for their misguided priorities the Bush Administration has made deep cuts to essential domestic spending programs. In addition to cuts in health care, environmental protection and domestic security preparedness, the budget has cut education funding again. These cuts in education just don’t make sense. Unfortunately, this is a continuation of a series of assaults on education by the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans that will hurt both current and future UCSB students.

Three months ago, Congress voted to drastically gut education funding with a bill cutting $12 billion in student assistance programs, the largest raid on student aid in history. That bill raised interest rates on parent borrowers, increased loan consolidation fees, and added a 1% insurance fee on college loans.

Last month, the House had a chance to correct these ill-advised cuts when we considered legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act for five years. This bill was the first major overhaul of postsecondary education policy since 1998. The bill presented an opportunity to encourage and assist students seeking postsecondary education, particularly students from low and middle-income families.

Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues failed to seize this opportunity. For example, this bill only raised Pell Grants by a pitiful $100. Even worse, it prohibited further increases until 2013. In the budget committee, I supported legislation to significantly increase Pell Grants without artificial limits on increases in the future. We know that the cost of college has risen dramatically in the last few years and will surely increase by more than $100 between now and 2013. Under this bill, students will keep falling behind in their ability to pay rising tuitions. That’s just not right – or smart.

Given the shortcomings of the legislation, I had to vote “no.”

As an alternative vision for improving access to higher education, my Democratic colleagues and I offered a proposal that would have cut interest rates in half for borrowers with the greatest need, lowering the cost of college by $2.4 billion for our nation’s students and families. Our alternative also contained provisions to encourage minority students to pursue higher education opportunities. Unfortunately, what I believe are critical investments in education funding were defeated on basically party line votes.

This shortsightedness on the importance of education funding continues as Congress considers this year’s federal budget. At a time when everyone knows that a quality education is critical to maintain America’s competitive edge in a global marketplace, the Republican budget proposes cutting education spending by $2.2 billion. This would mean cuts to programs ranging from Head Start to college loans. Successful outreach programs such as TRIO and GEAR-UP are simply eliminated in the President’s budget.

I have a long association with UCSB. I attended the University and was married to one of the campus’s most beloved teachers, Walter Capps. I also worked in Santa Barbara public schools for twenty years, so I know the value of quality education. Trying to save money by cutting education will cost us more in the long run when our kids can’t compete for jobs in the global marketplace.

I’ll keep fighting these misguided policies in Congress, but I need your help. I encourage UCSB students to get involved and make their voices heard on these important issues. Together, we can advocate for more funding for education programs, ensuring that generations of UCSB students continue to receive a quality education.

Please start today by joining Assemblyman Pedro Nava, student body representatives and me at a press conference in front of the UCen at 1 p.m. to discuss these disgraceful cuts to education.

Congresswoman Lois Capps is California’s 23rd District Representative.