The staggering student loan debt is a national tragedy. With more students seeking college degrees and comparatively high-paying jobs becoming less common, many young adults will struggle with repayment for the rest of their lives.

Democratic candidates in the 2020 race and elsewhere - and even some Republicans - are increasingly floating proposals to help get rid of that debt. Some want all loans forgiven after a certain time frame; others suggest forgiveness after public service terms are met, similar to California's deal for teachers who worked in inner-city schools. And finally, some - most notably, Sen. Bernie Sanders - want college to be free to all.

Advocates point out that if wars were curtailed and the defense budget moved in line with that of other countries, the U.S. could indeed afford free tuition. But regardless of who's living in the White House in 2020, that's not likely to happen then, or in the foreseeable future. There are many arguments pro and con, but it's true that not everyone is cut out for college, and there are many other career paths to take.

But education of some type is critical for Americans; it's the key to preventing society's eventual descent into chaos. That's why State Rep. Melissa Provenzano's request for three interim studies focusing on public education policy is so important.

Provenzano, who says she was elected because of her background in education, insists that Oklahoma needs to "recommit" itself to education, and she's correct. She wants not just more money, but a "smart, data-driven policy." She hopes it will help lawmakers make good decisions in a bipartisan fashion.

First, she wants to look at what type of workforce the state actually needs. That would mean linking public schools with businesses to produce students ready for Oklahoma's top industries, many of which can't even fill jobs they have available. Second, she wants to study virtual school attendance as it relates to the charter system and improve graduation rates in a way that resembles traditional classroom settings. This is comparable to the system in Florida right now, where students have successfully used the public school curricula in home environments.

Finally, Provenzano is taking aim at that all-important student loan debt, which is at a crisis level in Oklahoma as it is elsewhere. This, she hopes, will curtail some of the worst debts and study what other states are doing to alleviate the problem. A "Borrower's Bill of Rights" might be developed that's similar to those employed for credit card or home loan applications.

Speaker of the House Charles McCall will have the ultimate say on whether the studies are sanctioned. He has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by supporting this endeavor.