Strengthening our Schools
By Congressman Brad Sherman
The number-one concern of America's parents is the quality of education that their children receive. That is why I've been working with others in Congress on initiatives to strengthen our schools and expand educational opportunities.
First, we should keep our promises. When Congress in 2001 passed the No Child Left Behind Act, the bargain was simple and fair. Educators would be held accountable for improving schools and, in exchange, more federal financial support would go to local school districts. Unfortunately, millions of children have been left behind. Nationwide, the program has shortchanged assistance for schools by $39 billion during the four years since the law was passed. Schools in the San Fernando Valley this year alone have received $62.5 million less than the law promised. I will continue to fight to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act.
I also have been a strong supporter of meeting our obligation to help educate students with special needs. Congress last year renewed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA.) It was designed to put the federal government on track toward funding the full 40 percent share of special education which was promised when Congress passed IDEA. It is disappointing that the proposed funding for the program next year is $3.56 billion short of the goal Congress set just six months ago. Not only is this important to students who need special education, but when the federal government fails to fund IDEA, then local school districts must use local funds - thus shortchanging all students. In fact, San Fernando Valley schools were shortchanged by $44 million for IDEA in 2005.
For college-bound young people, skyrocketing tuition is making the dream of college degree less affordable for many families. I strongly support the Pell Grant program, the single largest source of grants for college students. As tuitions soared, however, the federal government has frozen the maximum Pell Grant at $4,050. As Congress prepares to renew major education legislation later this year, I will work to increase the maximum Pell Grant to $5,800 per year.
Most federal spending on education is distributed nationwide according to formulas. Small amounts are spent on particular projects selected by Congress. I devote significant efforts to persuading my colleagues to fund particularly innovative projects here in the San Fernando Valley. For example, the House recently passed my proposal to help build a new youth center in Northridge. It will provide after-school programs and other services for 800 young people. Last year I secured funds for the North Valley YMCA to offer more after-school programs. I also secured almost $800,000 in the past two years for High Tech High, an innovative program located at Birmingham High School that provides training for students in the Valley studying computer science, robotics, web design and other technical skills.
I will continue to support federal funding for education nationwide, and for specific projects here in the Valley.