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Kohl's Column for Black History Month: Education Key to Ending Disparities

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Kohl's Column for Black History Month: Education Key to Ending Disparities

February is Black History Month when we celebrate the achievements and contributions made by African Americans to our nation. This month includes the birthdays of great men like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and the anniversaries of the swearing in of the Honorable Hiram Revels, the first black U.S. Senator, along with the passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution proclaiming the right of United States citizens to vote regardless of race.

It is important during this time of celebration and reflection on the past that we also look to the future and rededicate ourselves as a nation and a diverse people to the important task of removing barriers and disparities. Perhaps the single best way to accomplish this goal is to invest in the education of our children. A strong education system can offer a path to ending disparity by improving opportunities for all.

In Congress, I am proud to be joined by many members of the Senate -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- who share my deeply held belief that improving education continues to be a top priority.

That is why I am a strong supporter of programs like Title I, after school initiatives and Pell Grant scholarships. These programs have received bipartisan support for so many years because of their successful track record, and deserve the resources they need to continue being effective.

But this month, with the budget proposed by President Bush, it was disappointing to see he underfunded the No Child Left Behind Act. This means that under the President's proposal, Wisconsin schools in need of assistance to improve their facilities would only receive almost $150 million less in important Title I funds instead of the $348 million authorized by Congress. This would hurt schools struggling to become better places of learning for our students, and I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to make sure that we continue to live up to our commitment to the underperforming schools in our communities.

Another key area of improving education for students of all backgrounds is through providing after-school tutoring. Not only do these programs help students achieve better grades in school, but they also provide young people with the opportunity to spend their after-school hours in a safe, supervised environment.

A program that has been effective in Wisconsin has been the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. These community learning centers provide tutoring and after school enrichment for students in rural and urban schools. It was discouraging to see that the President proposed reducing funding for this program, which helps students of all backgrounds improve their performance and stay in school. Under his budget, Wisconsin would receive less than $12 million for afterschool programs, rather than the $16.5 million it received last year. As we establish a budget in Congress, I will strongly emphasize this effective after school program as another important part of the equation for improving the quality of education in our communities.

This month, as students honor the history and valuable contributions of African Americans to our country by taking field trips to the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and visiting Underground Railroad sites in Wisconsin like the Milton House Museum, we should also ask what we can do to ensure equality into the future. By rising to the challenge together of overcoming obstacles, we can move our communities and nation beyond division.


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