Some taking aim at education assistance, specifically Pell Grants, should reorient their efforts toward fighting fraud and learning history.

Pell Grants are an investment in America’s future. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, college graduates earn nearly $1 million more than high school graduates. Those millions are reinvested in economic activity.

These grants are an important part of maintaining America’s global and economic leadership. America’s economy would stagnate and global presences diminish without educated individuals providing new innovations. If we fail to educate our own people, we will be handing over power to ones that do: India, Brazil and China.

Pell Grants provide need-based aid to thousands and are especially important to students attending technical schools such as those in Louisiana’s Community and Technical College System where students become technical innovators and employees in American industry. Louisiana colleges and universities help the state compete despite the recession.

Unemployment is 8.1 percent, but compared to other Southern states, Louisiana ranks third, well below neighboring Alabama’s 9.3 percent and Mississippi’s 10.4 percent unemployment.

LCTCS makes a bragging point of low tuition; LCTCS President Joe May: “We have what is, in effect, the second-lowest tuition at these colleges in the country. We’re proud of that.”

Critics claim it is easily abused by “Pell runners,” individuals who repeatedly lose eligibility at one institution and move on to the next. Excess payments go back to students to cover other expenses, but some never use the money for its intended purpose. This makes lower-priced schools targets, as Joe May continues: “If our price is so low that people are abusing the system, we’re very concerned about that.”

Ending abuse is not that complicated, identification information is required on the application for federal financial aid; this should make detecting and ousting fraud low-hanging fruit.

The Department of Education must develop a “watch list” of potential Pell runners and a “grant denial list” for known abusers. These federal dollars are intended for students who will utilize this opportunity and become productive, contributing members of society — not those just smart enough to scam the system.

Many argue the Founding Fathers never envisioned a government that provided these services and programs. They clearly were asleep in ninth-grade history. In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Education was a pillar of the revolution and employing generalized tactics of “small government” to decapitate this principle is ignorant and irresponsible.

Protecting Pell Grants protects the educational institutions providing jobs and enhances economic competitiveness. An educated American electorate and workforce are critical to future economic growth, global success and maintaining American freedom and democracy.

James Lewis

former senior policy analyst

Alexandria, Va.