Issue Position: Education
In Vermont, schools are at the core of what brings our communities together. Vermonters understand the importance of giving our children a quality education, and they understand that a child's education begins well before their first day of school and will continue long after their final graduation day. Over the past few years Congress has made significant changes to the education system in America. In 2001 Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, a series of sweeping reforms for elementary and secondary schools that mandate numerous new testing requirements for students and new qualification criteria for teachers. Congress has also debated the impact of the Higher Education Act and the increasing costs of attending college. College tuition and fees have been rising more rapidly than household income over the past two decades and it is becoming increasingly difficult for students and their families to afford these costs.
No Child Left Behind
The No Child Left Behind Act is the most sweeping expansion of the federal role in education in America since the 1960s and 70s, when landmark civil rights laws changed the shape of our schools. This law mandates numerous new requirements for both student testing and educational requirements for teachers.
Senator Leahy voted against final passage of the No Child Left Behind Act because he believed that this approach would have a negative impact on the state of Vermont. He recognized the high quality system of standards and assessments that Vermont had established prior to No Child Left Behind. Senator Leahy also stated his fears that the Administration would not commit the funds necessary to implement these new changes, leaving Vermont's cities and towns to pay the check.
What's New With 'No Child Left Behind'
Congress is scheduled to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act in 2007. In preparation of changes to the law, Senator Leahy joined nine of his colleagues in writing to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the HELP Committee to request that hearings be held on how the implementation of No Child Left Behind affects states, school districts, students administrators and parents. Specifically, Senator Leahy expressed concerns, shared by many Vermonters who have written to him, about the law's flexibility, funding and testing requirements.
On February 7th, 2004, Senator Leahy gave the keynote address before the Vermont National Education Association's annual conference. Senator Leahy stressed the individual needs of states and how the one-size-fits-all approach of the No Child Left Behind Act does not account for these needs. He also described how the Administration has not lived up to its commitment to provide the necessary resources for these mandates. In the 108th Congress, Senator Leahy joined with Senators Jeffords, Feingold and Dayton in introducing the Student Testing Flexibility Act, a bill that would give schools that are making the grade some relief from the burdensome testing requirements of No Child Left Behind.
College and Financial Aid
A college education is very important, but it is increasingly difficult for students to afford the rising costs. College tuition and fees have been rising more rapidly than household income over the past 2 decades, making it increasingly difficult for students that finance their own education to attend college. The federal government does administer a number of financial aid programs that include student loans, grants and work study programs. Foremost among these programs is the Federal Pell Grant program. In Fiscal Year 2004 more than 5 million undergraduates received financial assistance through this program. The federal TRIO programs and the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) are two additional critical programs which provide services and incentives to disadvantaged students to help increase their secondary or postsecondary educational attainment.
Senator Leahy is a strong supporter of increased federal funding for higher education, including for Pell grants, Federal work-study, TRIO and GEAR UP, LEAP and many other essential programs. The Senator also supported the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 which provided the largest investment in higher education since the G.I. Bill in 1945. Intended to give tax relief to middle class families, the centerpieces of this legislation are Hope Scholarship Credits, providing up to $1,500 for the first two years of college, and Lifetime Learning Credits, allowing a 20 percent tax credit for subsequent years.
Special education and early intervention are essential in helping children with disabilities to develop and live quality lives. Senator Leahy has always strongly supported the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its commitment to ensuring that children with disabilities have access to an appropriate public education. While the federal government has increased the amount of special education costs it funds, the current amount is still far less than the 40 percent allowed under IDEA.
The Fight for Full Funding of Special Education
On May 12th, 2004, the Senate considered a bill to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Because the Senate did not live up to its responsibility of fully funding IDEA during recent consideration of reauthorization of IDEA, Senator Leahy voted against this bill. The federal government must provide additional funding for special education in order to fulfill its commitment to IDEA and to ease the burden on states and local districts. On Mat 1st, 2006, Senator Leahy joined with more than 40 other senators in writing to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor Health and Human Services and Education requesting that the Senate take a step toward filling their commitment to IDEA by appropriating the highest level of funding for IDEA this year. The President requested only $10.68 billion for IDEA this year despite the stated commitment of Congress to fund IDEA at $16.9 billion for Fiscal Year 2007.