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Public Statements

Issue Position: Improving Our Schools

Issue Position

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We are failing too many of our children in public schools. Right now, six million middle and high school students read at levels significantly below their grade level. Unfortunately, the debate in Washington has been narrowed: either we need to pour more money into the system, or we need to reform it with more tests and standards. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Obama has introduced bills that cut through this false choice and recognize that good schools will require both structural reform and resources.

Innovating Teacher Pay

School districts across America face systemic barriers to attracting and putting the best teachers in schools where they are needed the most. Although the federal role in education is limited, one way the federal government can make the most of its scarce resources is by fostering innovation -- identifying the best programs and practices, and helping expand them around the country. Senator Obama introduced the Innovation Districts for School Improvement Act to award grants to school districts that try new methods to improve student achievement and reward effective teachers. Under this initiative, 20 districts across the country would get grants to develop innovative plans in consultation with their teacher unions. High-performing teachers would be eligible for pay increases of 10 to 20 percent of their base salary. These innovation districts would be required to implement systemic reforms and show convincing results.

"At the heart of improving education is ensuring high quality instruction for all students. Congress should enact proposals that use bonuses and other rewards to help ensure that high quality teachers are teaching in hard-to-serve schools as well as helping attract teachers to teach in shortage areas, such as math and science. Such proposals are contained in . . . Sen. Obama's Innovation Districts for School Improvement Act."

- John D. Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress Action Fund

Expanding Summer Learning Opportunities

Differences in learning opportunities during the summer contribute to the achievement gaps that separate struggling poor and minority students from their middle-class peers. Senator Obama worked with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to introduce the Summer Term Education Programs for Upward Progress (STEP UP) Act to address the achievement gaps among grade-school children. STEP UP establishes a grant program to support summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children through local schools or community organizations.

"Summer is an incredible opportunity to help children who are under-performing in school achieve grade-level proficiency, develop as young leaders, and enter school ready to excel in the fall. The support of Senators Obama and Mikulski demonstrates their commitment to children and education. The STEP UP Act is a tremendous opportunity to deepen and expand our impact on children's lives and help them achieve high academic standards."

- Earl Martin Phalen, CEO of BELL (Building Educational Leaders for Life)

Increasing Federal College Loans

Across the country, 5.3 million students use Pell Grants to finance their college educations. Not long ago, financial aid was primarily in the form of grants. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, and graduates now have more and more difficulty keeping up with loan payments. The first bill Senator Obama introduced in the U.S. Senate was the HOPE Act, which would help make college more affordable for many Americans. The bill would increase the maximum Pell Grant from the current limit of $4,050 to a new maximum of $5,100.


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