Rhode Islanders of all ages have made it clear to me that affordable, high quality education is a top priority. From young parents concerned about the quality of the public school their child will soon attend, to teenagers worried about how they will be able to afford college, to business leaders looking for new employees with strong math and science backgrounds, to senior citizens who volunteer to tutor kids who are struggling, we all know that education is the key to Rhode Island’s future – and the future of our country.

I believe all children should start school prepared to learn, regardless of economic background; that the federal government needs to fulfill its promises to provide the funding our schools need; and that we need to do more to help make sure that all young people who want to pursue higher education can afford to attend college.

One stage of education that needs special attention is middle school. When I served as Rhode Island’s Attorney General, my office adopted Oliver Hazard Perry Middle School in Providence, helping promote school safety, leadership and mentoring programs, and afterschool activities there. Working with Perry solidified my strong belief that middle school is a critical time in young people’s lives, during which students either develop a passion for learning or slip through the cracks. In the Senate, I’ve cosponsored the Success in the Middle Act, which was originally introduced by then-Senator Obama in the last Congress and would provide struggling middle schools with the resources they need to succeed. I will keep working to ensure that middle schools get the help they need to prepare their students to succeed in high school and beyond.

I have heard from countless Rhode Island families about the skyrocketing costs of a college education. Today, more than ever, a college diploma is truly essential to a young person’s success – and to the strength and competitive edge of America’s economy – so I am deeply concerned that the cost of higher education continues to rise rapidly, often beyond the reach of many American students. It is shameful, but also misguided, that federal financial aid has not kept pace with these costs.

In Rhode Island, our long tradition of helping make higher education more accessible is embodied by our legendary Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell and his Pell Grant program. I am honored to have the opportunity to carry on Senator Pell’s legacy. We must continue to work to increase Pell Grants and strengthen our student loan programs in order to make it easier for students to benefit from federal financial aid.

We’ve taken some important steps forward, and I’ll keep fighting to make certain that all children and young people in America have a chance at the great education they deserve.