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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 - March 05, 2007)

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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 still achieve the American dream. 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.

America's 15 year olds scored below average in math and science literacy compared to the youth of other developed nations on the most recent international assessment by the Programme for International Student Assessment.

We are losing ground in overall high school and college graduation rates. The U.S. has dropped below the average graduation rate for OECD countries. Out of 24 nations, the U.S. ranks 14th, just ahead of Portugal.

Since 1975, the U.S. has dropped from 3rd to 15th place in the production of scientists and engineers.

Federal investment in research and development is essential to keep us competitive, but federal dollars have been shrinking as a share of the economy. Funding for government research programs has fallen in real terms and is less than in 2004.

At the same time, fast-growing economies such as China, Ireland, and South Korea are realizing the potential for economic growth that comes with investing in innovation. China's investment in research and development 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 in research and development to stay ahead. We cannot just tinker at the margins and expect to retain our leadership in the global economy. We have a responsibility to make the investments that are necessary to our progress--a responsibility to our people, our economy, our nation, and 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 has also issued a report urging renewed focus on education and training to keep American businesses competitive.

Last week, the National Governors Association released its ``Innovation America' plan, which outlines opportunities for Federal investment to help spur innovation in the states. Here again, improving education and access to high quality job training take center stage.

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 a number of my colleagues today in reintroducing the ``America COMPETES Act,' or the ``America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act.' The bill is identical to legislation we introduced last year, but the need for action is even more important today 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; it takes important steps to encourage innovation in America as a way to create jobs and move our economy forward. Often, as we know, it is federally funded research that primes the pump for technological, medical and scientific breakthroughs. The bill will double basic research funding by the National Science Foundation by 2011. It also puts us on a strong course to doubling basic research funding by the Department of Energy.

In addition, the legislation 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--the Celtic Tiger--has already had extraordinary success in expanding its R&D strength since it established its council two years ago.

The bill also strengthens programs at college and universities to encourage renewed interest in nuclear science. Massachusetts has long been a leader in nuclear research. There are fewer than three dozen licensed research 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.

We must also make the research and development tax credit permanent. The incentive provided by the credit has led to quality jobs, better and safer products, greater productivity and a stronger and more robust national economy. A growing number of countries recognize the importance of research and development spending to future economic growth, and they 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 our tax incentives will continue year after year and will not expire, 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.

R&D 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 that Americans are well-trained for 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.

International comparisons of student achievement show that the United States is slipping behind other countries, but detailed analysis 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 and between white students and students of color.

On the most recent test comparing student achievement in industrial 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 can 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 need to renew and improve upon the important reforms in the No Child Left Behind Act this year. As we do so, we must make a strong commitment to adequately fund those reforms.

We must also invest in teachers. Research shows that having a high quality teacher for five years in a row can overcome the average 7th grade mathematics achievement gap between lower income and higher income children.

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. 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.

Our bill recognizes and responds to the critical need to recruit and train high quality math, science, technology and engineering teachers to teach in 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.

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 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 of good teachers are important, but so is retention of good teachers. Each year, over 200,000 teachers leave the profession--6 percent of the teaching workforce. High attrition rates mean that one of every two teachers hired will completely drop out of teaching within 5 years-just when they have gained the experience needed to consistently improve student achievement.

To be successful in closing the achievement gap, we must also do more to see that teachers have an incentive to stay in their 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 will face after graduation from high school.

According to recent research, 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.

For students directly entering the workforce, 60 percent of employers in a survey conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers said that a high school diploma did not adequately prepare a typical student with even basic skills to qualify for an entry level job.

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. Our bill provides grants to assist states in those efforts. The grants would support state P-16 councils that bring together leaders in the early education, K-12, and higher education communities, in the business sector, and in 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, as well as innovative curricula that engage our children in learning and 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 to teach students the practical applications of math and science. The National Center for Technological Literacy at the Museum of Science in 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.

Currently, the U.S. government uses tens of thousands of employees with foreign language skills in 100 languages and more than 80 Federal agencies. In addition, American businesses increasingly need employees experienced in foreign languages and international cultures to manage a culturally diverse workforce.

For students to become proficient in these critical foreign languages, they must have access to a sustained course of study, beginning in the early grades.

But currently, only one-third of students in grades 7-12 and a mere 5 percent of elementary school students study a foreign language.

Even fewer study critical need foreign languages. Only about 24,000 of approximately 54 million elementary and secondary school children in the United States are studying Chinese. In contrast, more than 200 million children in China study English--a compulsory subject for all Chinese primary school students.

The bill begins to address these needs by providing grants to institutions of higher education and local educational agencies to work in partnerships to create programs of study in critical foreign languages for students from elementary school through postsecondary education.

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 still more we can--and must--do.

A college degree is fast becoming the price of admission to participation in the global economy. Today, over 60 percent of jobs require some postsecondary training, and the number is rising rapidly. Such jobs bring higher pay as well. 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 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. 170,000 do not go to college at all.

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 pay off to the nation was immense. 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 don't go as far as they used to. Thirty years ago, seventy-seven percent of the federal assistance provided to students was in the form of grants, but in recent years the number has dropped to twenty percent.

With college costs skyrocketing, the value of the Pell Grant has not kept pace. 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.

Last 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 were used instead to pay for tax giveaways for the wealthiest Americans.

Last month, under the new Democratic leadership, Congress made a strong down payment to help low-income families afford college by raising the maximum Pell grant for the first time since 2003 from $4,050 to $4,310.

I know many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree that higher education is the key to keeping America competitive, and I look forward to working with them to build on this down payment as we reauthorize the Higher Education Act this year to ensure that the cost of college is not a barrier to full participation in the new economy.

We need to reform the federal student aid system to redirect excessive lender subsidies into additional help and support for students and families, including increased need-based aid, making student loans more manageable, and providing loan forgiveness for individuals in public sector careers.

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

Our workers are facing global competition that is often 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 basic protections such as child labor laws, a minimum wage, or the right to organize. It's not fair when U.S. 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 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. 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 fair warning to workers who are at risk of losing their jobs to overseas competition, so that they can plan for their futures. We must strengthen our commitment to help workers who lose their jobs to 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. Both houses of Congress have now voted overwhelmingly to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, and that vital legislation should reach the President's desk soon. But that's only a first step. We need to do much more to promote good jobs and ensure that workers get their fair share of economic growth. We also must 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. Our employees deserve greater job security in the present, and better job opportunities in the future. I hope that the same bipartisan coalition that has worked together so effectively on this competitiveness 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. What it does represent is the beginning of a strong commitment that we will need to sustain and build on if America is to remain competitive in the years ahead. It's gratifying that this bill has strong bipartisan support, because that support is critical to ensuring that these proposals become a reality.

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 essential 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. We rose to the challenge after World War II with the GI Bill. We rose to the Soviet Union's challenge of Sputnik in 1957 by passing the National Defense Education Act, and we went on to inspire the nation in the next decade by sending a man to the moon and by doubling the federal investment in education.

We need the same bold commitment now to help the current generation meet and master the global challenges we now face. The America COMPETES Act can be an effective first step. 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 to make this essential initiative as effective as possible.

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