Congressman Zeldin, having read your opinion piece, I applaud your interest in education and welcome your statement that you are “reintroducing the Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act to reduce testing to pre-No Child Left Behind levels and shift the focus from testing to teaching in our Long Island classrooms.” Few people would disagree that the overemphasis on testing has demoralized our teachers and removed creativity from our schools.
But introducing bills that have little or no chance of passage should do nothing to convince your constituents of your commitment to education. Your party is determined to weaken public schools by diverting much needed funding to religious and for profit charter schools. The Trump administration, with support from your party, is planning to do away with rules that prevent for-profit colleges from saddling veterans and other working class students with crippling debt and worthless degrees. And your party seems determined to overturn student loan regulations that lessen the interest that students must pay and that make it more difficult for big banks to saddle student debtors with unsustainable payment plans. As of now I have not heard any statements from you that would lead me to believe that you will not be marching lockstep with the administration and its new education secretary on these issues.
The next item you mention is infrastructure. No one can deny that this is a serious need. But until very recently you and your party have refused to work with the Obama administration to effectively address the backlog of repairs facing our nation. Why the wait? So President Obama would not get credit? And while I commend you on the passage of the Safe Bridges Act, most experts agree that it does not go nearly far enough to address our country’s infrastructure needs. You say that over 80 bridges and overpasses across the First Congressional District are eligible once again for federal funding. Eligibility is meaningless if the money is not there.
You next address health care. You have voted dozens of times to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. And now with a new President you may actually be able to do so. But even though your party has had six years to figure it out, you have yet to supply the American people with even the barest outline of a plan that would continue to insure the millions of citizens who now have health care under the ACA while at the same time ensuring that our hospitals remain solvent. As a member of Congress you have excellent health insurance. So perhaps it is not easy for you to appreciate the angst now being experienced by working class parents who fear the loss of health insurance for themselves and their children.
On another issue you state, “All Americans should have access to clean air and water.” Is this why you voted for a recently signed law that allows coal companies to dump toxic waste into waterways used for fishing, drinking water, and agriculture? Is this why you support the appointment of an EPA director whose mission seems to be to destroy the agency? And is this the reason you have not stood up to members of your party who have actually proposed legislation abolishing the agency?
I welcome your effort in your opinion piece to explain some of your positions to your constituents. But this is a one-way conversation and in no way informs you of the concerns that your voters have with your positions. It is for this reason that I urge you to hold a town hall meeting where these issues can get a proper airing.
John Neely, a 46-year East End resident, is a retired Riverhead public school teacher, freelance photographer and photography instructor. He lives in Westhampton Beach.
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