Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

By:  Barack Obama II
Date: Oct. 22, 2007
Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (Senate - October 22, 2007)

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I wish to engage in a colloquy with the distinguished Senator from Iowa, Mr. Harkin. I appreciate his efforts, as chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, on the appropriations bill before us today. I commend his continual
efforts over the years to expand educational opportunities and to provide adequate funding and resources for all students.

The most important resource a school can offer is good teaching, which necessitates bringing more quality teachers into our classrooms, and making certain that when we recruit and prepare good teachers, we do so in a way that best ensures their success. This means providing them adequate preparation and ongoing support, especially in those pivotal first years in the classroom.

And so, I am grateful for the work of Senator Harkin in our collaborative and bipartisan efforts on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, to strengthen provisions to realign the teacher enhancement partnership grants in the Higher Education Amendments with what we know works best in preparing teachers. We must recruit the best talents to become teachers, and we must work to provide adequate preparation and support, so that when talented individuals become teachers, they are successful and want to stay in the classroom. Research shows that new teachers are often less effective than teachers with even a few years of experience. But recent experience also shows that good preparation programs can accelerate the rate at which novice teachers become effective.

We must help new teachers get the preparation and mentoring they need. Teacher preparation too seldom provides the opportunity to learn under the guidance of expert mentors working in schools that effectively serve high-need students. Most new teachers lack this type of support, and so leave the profession before they experience the rewards of the profession. One effective way to provide such preparation is through teaching residency programs, which are established in partnerships among colleges or universities, school districts, and other community partners. It is essential that we provide support for such partnerships.

Even as colleges realize the effectiveness of mentoring and induction in preparing teachers, and in working with high-needs school districts to tailor programs to prepare prospective teachers for the challenges they will face, it is regrettable that the President proposed eliminating support for the partnership grants that fund these needed and innovative approaches. I commend the Senator from Iowa for working to safeguard funding at $28.5 million, a level that ensures at least that current partnership grants can continue. But this level of funding is less than half of what was available last year, and $11.5 million below what our colleagues in the House proposed. It is clearly inadequate for encouraging the types of partnerships, such as residencies, that are developing at several sites across the country. So I hope the Senator from Iowa can continue his efforts to make sure that teachers get the training they need, and can meet the funding level proposed by our colleagues in the House.

Mr. HARKIN. I appreciate the remarks of the Senator from Illinois, as well as his work in championing partnerships, such as teacher residencies, on the HELP Committee. I realize the importance of having a quality teacher in every classroom. I know that too many students in high-need schools, both in cities and in rural areas, are sometimes taught by inadequately prepared teachers. These teachers are asked to take on challenges that can be discouraging, or even overwhelming. And so we lose too many teachers, often before we find out how good they could become.

I thank the Senator from Illinois for recognizing what we have done to avoid the elimination of funding for these partnership programs. When this bill goes to conference, I look forward to working with my colleague from Illinois, and I will continue to try to increase the level of funding available for colleges and universities to partner, in new ways, to improve teacher preparation. Bringing more quality teachers into classrooms is a priority for me, and I agree with the Senator from Illinois that it is important to find resources to support effective programs to better prepare and to better support teachers.

Mr. SPECTER. I thank my colleagues for raising this issue, and agree to try to help support teacher preparation, using methods that are shown to be effective. We all recognize the importance of teacher quality, and I will continue to work with my colleagues on this issue.

Mr. OBAMA. I commend the work of the Senator from Iowa, and the Senator from Pennsylvania, in working to ensure that funding for education continues to be a priority. I look forward to continuing to work with them on this important issue.

CHILDHOOD LEAD POISONING PREVENTION

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I wish to engage in a colloquy with the distinguished chairman from Iowa, Mr. Harkin, and ranking member Mr. Specter from Pennsylvania. I appreciate their continued efforts to ensure fair allocation of funding for the health programs outlined in the bill before us. I also understand the difficulties in making these determinations. However, the recent recalls of child products have highlighted the continued threat of lead poisoning to children, and I believe that child lead poisoning prevention activities at the Centers for Disease Control would benefit dramatically from increased funding.

Lead is highly toxic, especially to young children. It can harm a child's brain, kidneys, bone marrow, and other organs. At high levels, lead can cause coma, convulsions, and death. The National Academy of Sciences has reported that comparatively low levels of lead exposure are harmful. Even low levels of lead found in blood of infants, children, and pregnant women have been associated with impaired cognitive function, behavior difficulties, fetal organ development, and other problems. In addition, low levels of lead in children's blood can cause reduced intelligence, impaired hearing and reduced stature.

In the past 6 months, millions of products, primarily children's toys, have been recalled due to potentially harmful levels of lead. These sources of lead exposure are in addition to dangers of lead poisoning that already exist in the home from lead-based paints and lead plumbing. It is my belief that we should do more to support programs that target reduction of lead exposure and toxicity.

Towards that end, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the National Center for Environmental Health has created the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. The CLPPP plays a major role in the Federal interagency mission to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by 2010. The efforts put forth by the CLPPP include assistance in completing and implementing a Federal strategic plan to eliminate nonessential uses of lead in consumer items and to support State and local efforts to identify and treat children exposed to lead.

I thank the chairman for the increased funding this bill provides for the National Center for Environmental Health, and I hope he will work in conference to provide an increase for the CLPPP.

Mr. HARKIN. I share the concerns of my colleague from Illinois, Senator Obama, about lead poisoning in children. Despite the considerable progress made over the past few decades, much work remains to be done to protect our Nation's children. I am encouraged that the CDC is developing a hand-held lead screening device that will help to increase testing in underserved communities, who are especially at high risk for lead poisoning. This effort and other initiatives at CDC merit greater support and I will do my best in conference to increase funding for this important work.

Mr. SPECTER. I agree with the comments made by my distinguished colleague, Chairman Harkin.

Mr. OBAMA. I commend the chairman and ranking member on their work and congratulate them on passage of this bill. We all agree that every child with lead poisoning is a preventable and needless tragedy, and I look forward to working with both of them to identify additional funds for the CLPPP during conference.

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