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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - September 26, 2006)

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, families across America are facing serious challenges in today's global economy. The value of their wages is declining, the cost of living is going up, and many of their jobs are being shipped overseas.

We must respond to this challenge to ensure that our citizens can achieve the American dream once again. We have the best workers in the world, and we must prepare them to compete and succeed in the global economy.

America has long been at the forefront in innovation, invention, and education. But other countries are catching up and surpassing us.

We are now ranked 28th out of 40 nations in math education.

Since 1975, we have dropped from 3rd to 15th in the world in producing scientists and engineers.

A recent report shows that high school and college graduation rates in the United States have dropped below the average for other developed countries.

Federal investment in research and development has been shrinking as a share of the economy, and government research programs at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy all have less funding this year than they did three years ago.

At the same time, fast-growing countries like China, Ireland and South Korea are realizing the potential for economic growth that comes with investing in innovation. For example, China's total research and development investments rose from $12.4 billion in 1991 to $84.6 billion in 2003, an average increase of 17 percent a year. Over the same period, the increase in U.S. investment averaged only 4 to 5 percent annually.

Study after study tells us that we need major new investments in education and research and development to stay ahead. We cannot just tinker at the margins and expect to master our own destiny in the global economy. We have a responsibility to make the investments that are necessary to our progress--a responsibility to our families, to our economy, to our Nation, and to our national security.

Last year, the Council on Competitiveness urged a focus on lifelong skill development--through elementary, secondary and higher education, and workforce training and support, as essential to keeping America on the cutting edge of innovation.

The recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, ``Rising Above the Gathering Storm,'' emphasized these recommendations. Two of the report's four major recommendations involved education as the solution to meeting the global challenge. The report set out a broad roadmap for keeping America competitive, but it prioritized investment in education over all other recommendations.

The National Association of Manufacturers also issued a report urging renewed focus on education and training to keep American businesses competitive.

It is clear that we must act, and today we are taking a step toward putting America back on the right track.

I am pleased to join with a bipartisan group of my colleagues today to introduce the National Competitiveness Investment Act. It is a modest proposal, but it represents an important down-payment on the commitment and sustained investment needed to keep America competitive in the years to come.

The legislation responds to many of the recommendations in the ``Gathering Storm'' and other recent reports and includes many provisions based on those in the Right TRACK Act, which I introduced earlier this year.

The bill takes important steps to encourage innovation in America as a way to create jobs and move our economy forward. It is often federally funded research that primes the pump for technological, medical and scientific breakthroughs, and the bill doubles basic research funding by the National Science Foundation over the next five years. It also puts us on a strong course to doubling basic research funding at the Department of Energy as well.

The legislation also creates a President's Council on Innovation and Competitiveness, based on successful models being used in established and emerging economies in Europe and Asia. The council will bring together the heads of Federal agencies with leaders in business and academia to develop a comprehensive agenda to promote innovation. Japan for some time has had a similar council, and Ireland, known as the Celtic Tiger, has already had success in expanding its R&D strength since it established its council last year.

The bill also strengthens programs at college and universities to encourage a renewed interest in nuclear science. Massachusetts has long been a leader in nuclear research. There are only three dozen licensed nuclear reactors in the United States, and three of them are located at Massachusetts universities--University of Massachusetts Lowell, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and MIT. These colleges will have a vital role as nuclear science expands, and this bill will help expand their programs and establish new ones to meet the growing demand.

These are important investments, but there is more we can do. We should act to renew the research and development tax credit as soon as possible. The incentive provided by the tax credit has led to quality jobs, better, safer products, greater productivity and a stronger, more robust national economy. A growing number of countries who recognize the importance of research and development spending to future economic growth now offer more generous R&D tax incentives than the United States. The top 6 pharmaceutical companies, and American high tech companies like Microsoft, Intel and GE have all opened advanced R&D facilities in India. We must give American companies the certainty that these incentives will continue to be there, so that they can choose to maintain these high-skilled jobs here at home, to keep America at the cutting edge as a leader in innovation in the global economy.

These investments also depend on a talented pool of well-trained individuals who can make discoveries and scientific breakthroughs. Jobs in science and engineering are expected to increase 70 percent faster than those in other fields over the next 6 years. To ensure Americans are prepared to hold these jobs, we must improve education at all levels--from the very early years in a child's life all the way through doctoral study and beyond--especially in math, science, engineering and technology.

Although international comparisons of student achievement show that the United States is slipping behind other countries, a closer look shows that the picture is more complex. The real problem lies in the serious and pervasive achievement gap in this country between higher income students and lower income students.

On the most recent test comparing student achievement in industrialized nations, white students in the United States performed better than the average for all countries in both math literacy and problem solving, while their Hispanic and African American peers did worse. Low-income students in the U.S. performed worse than their high-income peers, and also performed worse than other low-income students in over half of the developed countries surveyed.

If we close this achievement gap, and guarantee all children in this country a world-class education, we can put America back at the top of the list. To do so, we should fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act.

We must also invest in teachers. The National Competitiveness Investment Act recognizes and responds to the critical need to recruit and train high quality math, science, technology and engineering teachers to teach in the schools with the greatest need so that we can begin to close the achievement gap and ensure that all American students can compete on a level playing field with their peers in other nations.

Research shows that having a high quality teacher is one of the most important factors in a child's success in school. But almost half of math classes taught in high poverty and high minority schools are taught by teachers without a college major or minor in math or a related field, such as math education, physics or engineering. The problem is even more serious in middle schools--70 percent of math classes in these schools are taught by a teacher who doesn't even have a minor in math or a related field.

The bill provides a 10-fold increase in the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program at the National Science Foundation to recruit math, science, engineering and technology students and professionals to become teachers in high need school districts.

It provides grants to institutions of higher education to create undergraduate programs that integrate the study of math, science, engineering, or critical need foreign language with teacher education, modeled on the successful U-Teach program at the University of Texas. It also helps institutions create part-time master's degree programs to improve the content knowledge and teaching skills of current teachers. In both of these programs, universities would partner with high-need school districts to ensure that these resources will go where they are needed most.

The bill expands the Teacher Institutes for the 21st Century program at the National Science Foundation to provide cutting-edge summer professional development programs for teachers who teach in high-need schools. It also creates a summer institute program in the Department of Energy to strengthen the math and science teaching skills of elementary and secondary school teachers.

Recruitment and training are the first steps, but we must also do more to see that teachers have an incentive to stay in classrooms once they are there. We should provide financial incentives--through fellowships or salary increases--to teachers who commit to teach in the highest need schools, where the unique challenges make the schools the hardest to staff. I look forward to working with my colleagues as the bill moves forward to add this critical component to the effort.

In addition to providing a high quality teacher in every classroom, we must also ensure that children in low income school districts have access to the same college preparatory classes that more affluent school districts are able to provide--and, importantly, that they have the preparation they need to succeed in those classes. To do so, the bill expands access to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes as well as pre-AP and pre-IB courses, especially in high need schools, and creates a program to improve instruction in math for elementary and middle school students and provide targeted help to students struggling with the subject.

The bill also addresses the critical need to ensure our education system is preparing students for the challenges they face after graduation from high school. According to a recent study, the Nation loses over $3.7 billion a year in the cost of remedial education and lost earning potential because students are not adequately prepared to enter college when they leave high school.

Many States have recognized the need to better align elementary and secondary school standards, curricula, and assessments with the demands of college, the 21st century workforce and the Armed Forces. This bill provides grants to assist States in those efforts. The grants would support state PreK-16 councils that bring together stakeholders from all levels of the education community, from the business sector, and from the military to improve the rigor of elementary and secondary education and prepare students for the postsecondary challenges they will face.

These provisions will help spur the development of more rigorous standards and innovative curricula that engages our children in learning to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers. It will assist states in the work they are doing to create new disciplines in engineering and technology at the elementary school level that allow students to learn the practical applications of math and science. I am proud that the National Center for Technological Literacy at the Museum of Science, Boston is at the forefront of these efforts.

In addition to the education programs at the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, the legislation relies on the resources of the Department of Energy to assist in the effort to improve math and science education. The National Labs at the Department of Energy can have a critical role in these efforts, and so can the more than 300 colleges and universities across the country conducting research supported by the Department of Energy. I appreciate my colleagues' efforts to ensure that the resources of the Department of Energy are used to enhance educational opportunities for children not only in the states that host National Labs, but across the country.

It is also becoming increasingly important for students to become exposed to and immersed in critical foreign languages and cultures. In recent years, foreign language needs have significantly increased throughout the public and private sector due to the presence of a wider range of security threats, the emergence of new nation states, and the globalization of the U.S. economy. American businesses increasingly need employees experienced in foreign languages and international cultures to manage a culturally diverse workforce. But if students are to become proficient in these critical foreign languages, they must have access to a sustained course of study, beginning in the early grades.

To address these needs, the bill provides grants to enable institutions of higher education and local educational agencies working in partnership to create programs of study in critical foreign languages for students from elementary school through postsecondary education.

All of these programs and investments will help prepare our students to compete in the 21st century, but if we are serious about keeping America competitive, there is more we can and must--do.

A college degree is fast becoming the price of admission to participation in the global economy. Eighty percent of the fastest growing jobs in this country will require some postsecondary education. A recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that in the United States, earnings of people with a post-secondary degree are 72 percent higher on average than for those with only a high school diploma.

But with soaring costs and stagnant financial aid, college is increasingly out of reach for students and families. Research shows that 400,000 students a year do not go to a four year college because they cannot afford it.

When our troops returned home from World War II, we created the GI Bill and sent them to college to learn the skills they would need in the changing world. The economy reaped an estimated $7 in benefit for every dollar invested in that effort.

In recent decades however, Federal grant aid has dwindled and the grants provided don't go as far as they used to. Thirty years ago, 77 percent of the federal assistance provided to students was in the form of grants, but in recent years it's 20 percent. The Pell Grant now covers less than 35 percent of the cost of attending college.

To ensure the prosperity of our families and the nation, we must open the doors of college to all by restoring the Pell Grant as the foundation of the student aid system.

Earlier this year, Congress squandered an opportunity to significantly increase aid for low income students. The Senate passed a bill that would have immediately increased the Pell grant from $4,050 to $4,500. But this increase was rejected, and the funds instead were used to pay for tax giveaways for the wealthiest Americans.

I know many of my colleagues agree that higher education is the key to keeping America competitive, and I look forward to working with them to ensure that the cost of college is not a barrier to full participation in the new economy.

We must also do more to address the devastating impacts of the global economy on American workers and their families.

American workers are facing global competition that is fundamentally unfair, but this bill does nothing to level the playing field or to help ease the burden of their transition to the global economy. To truly improve our national competitiveness, we must address all aspects of this challenge. We cannot continue to ignore the plight of working Americans.

First, we need to level the playing field in the competition for good jobs. Americans have nothing to fear from competition that's fair. But it's not fair when Americans are competing with foreign workers who lack even basic labor standards, like child labor laws, a minimum wage, or the right to organize. And it's not fair when companies cut costs by exploiting and abusing foreign workers.

We need to exercise global leadership in promoting fair wages and safe working conditions for workers around the world, reward companies that treat their foreign workforces fairly, and be a strong voice in sanctioning those countries that will not play by the rules

Beyond these basic steps to level the playing field, we owe a particular duty to those American workers who are losing their jobs because of trade. We all benefit from the lower prices and variety of products that globalization provides, but many of our most vulnerable workers are paying the price. In the manufacturing sector alone, we've lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2001, and service sector jobs are now moving overseas as well. These are good, middle-class jobs, with decent wages and benefits that form the core of the American middle class.

Our response to globalization must address the disappearance of good jobs. We must create the good jobs of the future. We must eliminate tax incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas. We must give workers who are at risk of losing their jobs to overseas competition fair warning so that they can plan for their futures. We must strengthen our commitment to help workers who lose their jobs adjust to the new economy, with well-funded training and income assistance programs that ease the transition to new employment.

Fulfilling our commitment to American workers also demands that we give them their fair share of the economic growth that globalization brings. We must raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, and give workers a stronger voice in the new economy by protecting their right to organize and form a union.

If we truly want to be competitive in the global economy, we need to address these challenges facing the American workforce head on, and give workers greater job security in the present, and better opportunities in the future. I hope that the same bipartisan coalition that has worked together so effectively on this bill can also work together to address these important issues for America's working families.

The legislation we are introducing today is not a complete package. It represents only the beginning of a strong commitment that we will need to build on and sustain if America is to remain competitive in the years ahead. I am proud that the bill has strong bipartisan support, and that support is critical to ensuring these proposals become a reality.

In 2001, there was strong bipartisan support to significantly increase funding to improve our schools through the No Child Left Behind Act. But President Bush's budget this year would mean a cumulative shortfall of $56 billion in funding since that bill was enacted, and this year he proposed cutting education funding by $2 billion.

In 2002, we promised to double NSF funding, but last year's appropriation was only two-thirds the level we agreed to four years ago--nearly $3 billion short of staying on track to that goal.

Words alone will not keep America competitive. This legislation must be more than a promise. I look forward to working with my colleagues as the bill moves forward to ensure that Congress provides the new investments needed to fully support these important proposals.

Americans know how to rise to challenges and come out ahead. We've done it before and we can do it again. When we were called into action in 1957 with the Soviet Sputnik launch, we rose to the challenge by passing the National Defense Education Act and inspiring the nation to ensure that the first footprint on the moon was by an American. We doubled the federal investment in education.

We need the same bold commitment to help the current generation meet and master the global challenges of today and tomorrow. The National Competitiveness Investment Act will start to put America back on track. I look forward to working with my colleagues to improve upon the bill as it moves forward and to expand on these efforts in the months to come.

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