Issue Position: Education
Montanans are fortunate to have the best students and teachers in America. In fact, our eighth graders earned some of the top scores in the country in the science portion of a recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) evaluation. They placed third in the country in the math section. These latest scores build on a history of outstanding performances on national exams. Our hard-working, high-quality teachers are the key to these successes; their dedication to their profession and to our children drives our education system. Moreover, our students' high test scores are a good sign that Montana's students are being prepared to meet the challenges they will face in the new millennium.
Education is key to a strong economic future so we have to continuously work together to strengthen our education system. During my time in the Senate, I've been proud to be involved in efforts that have invested more money in our schools to reduce class sizes, improve school facilities, and attract high quality teachers.
The strength and success of our education system has been built on our common goal to provide our children with the best opportunities to succeed in life. I'm committed to that goal and to working together with all Montanans to meet our educational needs. Together, we can ensure that the best is yet to come.
Investing in our education system will strengthen Montana's economy and create more jobs. That's why I'll continue to actively support Montana's education system in Congress. We need a comprehensive approach to education and I'm working on just that. Education Issues for Students of All Ages
Ensuring Our Success in the 21st Century economy
Education Competitiveness: Making Higher Education More Affordable: I'm continually searching for ways to help students and families better afford a college education. I'm proud to have helped create important savings programs like the HOPE Scholarship and the Lifetime Learning Credit. I'm also proud to have helped expand the Pell Grant program during my time in the Senate; this important grant helps low-income students and families afford the rising costs of a college education. As part of the 2001 tax bill, Senator Grassley and I successfully included more than $29 billion in direct tax and savings incentives to help individuals pay for their education, to help families educate their children, and to help retrain American workers when needed. Last year I successfully made permanent Internal Revenue Code 529 Qualified Tuition programs that help Montanans save for higher education.
I'm currently working on more tax provisions to help families pay for college including simplifying the many education tax provisions and expanding these credits to cover more than just tuition. I'm also encouraging students to work in public service as a means to pay off heavy debt burdens.
I whole-heartedly support reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). HEA programs and activities provide four major streams of assistance for Montanans: student financial aid, services to help students complete high school and enter and succeed in postsecondary education, aid to our colleges and universities, and aid to improve K-12 teacher training. I will be ready to fight for more federal assistance when HEA comes before the Senate again. Central to this debate will be the topic of college affordability.
Teacher Recruitment and Retention: We must ensure our schools have the resources they need to recruit and retain the highest quality teachers. As schools across the country face teacher shortages -- a problem that may become especially dire in Montana in the next 10 years - it's vitally important that the federal government encourage more people to go into the teaching profession, help career professionals transition into teaching positions, and provide incentives for new and experienced teachers to stay in classrooms in hard-to-serve schools. I personally support increasing federal loan forgiveness programs for teachers, and I will be working with my Senate colleagues during the upcoming renewal of the Higher Education Act to expand these programs.
I'll also use my position as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to look at potential tax incentives and scholarships for teachers who teach in rural and hard-to- serve schools. Furthermore, I will push for an extension of a new tax credit for teachers' out-of-pocket classroom expenses. To help support public education generally, I propose allowing an above-the-line deduction for State and local property taxes on a principal residence.
An investment in our teachers is necessary for our students to be prepared for a global economy. I have introduced legislation that provides scholarships for teachers in math and science as well as foreign language and early education instruction. With a commitment to teachers, we can ensure that the students of tomorrow are well prepared for the challenges ahead.
Indian Schools and Tribal Colleges: I've fought to help our Indian schools and Tribal Colleges obtain the resources they need to be successful. I'm a member of the Senate Impact Aid Coalition, a group of Senators that works to help schools that have unique needs because they lie on or near federal lands or on reservations. In the past, Senator Inhofe and I teamed up to introduce a bill that would make Impact Aid funding an entitlement, which means it would no longer be subject to yearly funding competition. This will mean that school officials will be better able to plan their budgets from year to year and that our kids in these schools will have better services. I've also worked together with my Senate colleagues to support our Tribal College infrastructure and increase funding to these institutions. I'm pleased to have been part of efforts that have allowed our seven Tribal Colleges to continue growing to meet the needs of our Tribal populations and surrounding communities.
I introduced a bill to increase funding the "Johnson O'Malley" supplemental education grants that are the cornerstone of tribal student programs. My bill will focus on language learning and technical skills funding. I am working to develop strategies to build effective and meaningful educational programs for the future of Native American youth.
Special Education: I supported the renewal of the federal government's special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). I believe that every child, no matter of their background or learning ability has the right to a quality education. Securing additional federal funds for local schools is an important next step. Montana's schools, with their relatively tight budgets, have an especially difficult time coming up with the necessary funds to educate students with disabilities. I've fought for additional funding for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants to states to help them meet the federal mandate of providing a free, appropriate education for all students. I'll continue to be a lead advocate to fully fund special education. Our Montana students, and students all around the country, deserve it.
I'm very proud of Montana's schools, and I've always worked to ensure that all of our schools receive the funding and assistance they need in order to provide a high quality education for our kids. I've been especially vocal about the unique needs of our rural schools. I pushed for the creation of the Rural Education Achievement Program to provide additional federal funds to rural schools, and I'm currently fighting to expand funding for the program to assist rural schools even more. In addition, I joined Senators Enzi and Conrad in forming a new Senate Rural Education Caucus in January 2003, and we are working hard to highlight the needs as well as the strengths of America's rural schools.
Head Start: I have been a strong and ardent supporter of Head Start throughout my Congressional career, and I am fighting to expand the promise of Head Start services to more kids and families in the reauthorization of the bill this year. Montana's 13 regional, seven tribal, and five early-age Head Start programs help roughly 4,500 Montana kids and their families prepare for school by helping them meet their health, nutrition, academic, and social needs. Because these programs are proven successes, I oppose efforts to change the administration and structure of Head Start. Instead, I believe our common interest is best served by strengthening our current Head Start programs.
Investment in early education has the biggest payoff in student achievement. On the other hand, children who fall behind early, fall further behind in later years. I introduced a bill to build on the successes of early education programs such as Head Start and move America toward voluntary universal pre-kindergarten education for all income levels. My bill provides matching state funding of a qualified program to provide voluntary, universal pre-kindergarten.
Enrichment Activities: A nation that is not creative cannot be innovative. Recognizing this fact, I developed a bill to provide funding for language learning, arts education, after-school activities, and mentoring programs to get students thinking creatively and "outside of the box." My bill also funds programs aimed at college preparation; crime/drug abuse prevention (including methamphetamine prevention efforts); and vocational training.
Business Partnerships: A competitive America never stops learning. We must provide incentives that help encourage businesses to partner with educational centers to help meet their workforce needs. By providing opportunities for continuing education we can ensure that Americans remain ready for any challenge. I am working to improve tax incentives that help businesses get more involved in their local schools.
Statewide Dialogue: I believe that we will only succeed by working together, whether the issue is education, health care or economic development. During my time in the Senate, I've been an active participant in statewide conversations about our education system. In addition to discussions with teachers, administrators, students and parents, I've been involved with the Economic Development Action Group and their offshoot, the Alliance for Montana's Future. The Alliance for Montana's Future is dedicated to achieving the goal of a stronger economy for Montana through support of our higher education system. There are other important education discussions occurring across the state, and I'm pleased to see so much attention focused on the education arena. In the end, we're all working hard to do what's right for Montana's children, and, through our conversations and planning, I know our children will be better off.
Reauthorize Secure Rural Schools: The Secure Rural Schools program, which expired last year, is a critically important program for Montana. It provides funding for schools and road improvements that keep schools open and teachers employed in many Montana Communities. I am proud to have cosponsored a new measure in the recent Supplemental Appropriations bill that authorized a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program.
Other proposals to fund the Secure Rural Schools program would sell off public lands to do so. I think that is an unacceptable solution, and I strongly oppose it. Public lands are important to our outdoor heritage and conservation legacy in Montana. We hunt, fish, and camp with our kids. The public lands we enjoy should be well managed and passed on for future generations to enjoy, and we can find a better way to keep the Secure Rural Schools program running than sell off those lands.