Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) welcomed yesterday high school students from Rota, Tinian, and Saipan to the 2nd Annual Close Up Youth Summit at the Saipan World Resort in Susupe. The summit, organized by the Close Up Foundation, aims to engage students in thinking about the most vexing public policy problems facing the Commonwealth. An agenda of recommendations from the students is expected at the end of the three-day summit.
Sablan is a leading advocate for funding for the Close Up program, which brings students from the Northern Marianas and other U.S. insular areas to Washington, D.C. to study how the federal government works each year. Congress legislates the money needed for Close Up programs in the Northern Marianas through the annual appropriation for the Interior Department.
Increased funding in recent years has allowed Close Up to add the on-island summit program. The summit gives more students an opportunity to participate in Close Up and prepares those students who travel with the program to the nation's capital for their learning experience there.
In his remarks, Sablan focused on the importance of having student representatives from Rota, Tinian, and Saipan all working together at the summit. “Unless all our islands are contributing,” the delegate said, “your proposals will be incomplete. With input from a broad range of viewpoints you are going to have a much stronger set of recommendations at the end of the summit.”
The delegate also talked about his efforts to make sure that students and schools have the financial resources they need.
“You have all heard: 'Students are our future,'” Sablan said. “Sounds great. But unless you back that up with some money and some programs to help schools, you're just blowing smoke.
“So I became one of the 22 original sponsors of a bill called the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which became law in 2010.
“We increased the number of students eligible for the Pell Grant, which is a college scholarship from the federal government. We also increased the dollar amount of each Pell grant. And we lowered the cost of college loans.”
The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Obama health care reform law. No Republicans voted for it.
Pell grants have been going up ever since. Northern Marianas students got $2.9 million in 2010. This year NMI students received $3.6 million in Pell grants and that total will continue to rise.
In addition to the tuition that Pell grants pay, the Northern Marianas College also benefited from the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act directly. The college is receiving $7.5 million in College Access Challenge grants over a 10-year period to use to help NMC students succeed at the college level.
Sablan told the students that he looks forward to seeing the results of their work, the Agenda for Policy Action, which students will present on Friday, Oct. 19, the final day of the Close Up Summit.