Issue Position: Education
Every American ought to have the opportunity to get the best education in the world. Senator Maria Cantwell has fought to invest in our future and help make college affordable for families and students across our country. She supports a comprehensive strategy for achievement and accountability to make America's pre-K, K-12, higher education, and lifelong learning programs the best in the world. The value and need for higher education has never been more important in today's knowledge-driven global economy. Growing our college educated workforce will not only help our students and their futures, but spur the economic vitality of our nation.
Making Education a Top Priority
The Bush Administration has repeatedly tried to cut critical funding for education. The most recent attempt in the 2007 budget would have terminated 42 programs and marked the first time in a decade that overall federal funding for schools would decrease the largest cut in the Department of Education's 26 year history. Maria worked hard to protect important education initiatives during budget negotiations and supported key amendments to restore billions for education. A large portion of the cuts were proposed in programs America can ill-afford to lose in this global competitive economy Perkins Loan Grants and LEAP, TRIO, and GEAR UP, three programs that prepare minority students for college.
Tax Help for College Costs
Taxes shouldn't make it harder for children to go to college. Maria has tried to make the tax deduction for college tuition permanent and expand it to $12,000 a year, but the provision she supported failed on the Senate floor. Maria also supports a tax credit for student loan interest and as a member of the U.S. House in the 1990s sought to expand tax-free scholarships.
Protecting Pell Grants and Perkins Loans
Maria went to college with the help of Pell Grants and she knows what it's like to not be sure if you can afford to go to college. While the Bush administration has sought to cut Pell Grants for 1.3 million students, Maria knows they are essential. She has fought to protect millions of students from proposed Pell Grant cuts, and to increase the size and value of the grants. Maria has also worked to extend the grants to workers acquiring new skills.
Expanding Tax Free College Savings Accounts
To give everyone a chance at the American dream, we have to make higher education more affordable. Maria is working to make that a reality by introducing the College Savings Act to more than double the amount that families can contribute to Coverdell education savings accounts from $2000 to $5000. In Coverdell accounts, investments grow tax free and withdrawals are tax-exempt when used for college.
Expanding Head Start
A longtime advocate of the Head Start program, Maria believes that to help young students live up to their full potential, we must begin early. Children must be ready to learn. She has worked hard to expand and improve Head Start while providing loan forgiveness for its teachers.
Protecting Needed After-School Programs
Maria believes in the value of after-school programs. She cosponsored a successful 2004 bill which expanded funding for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and cosponsored an amendment targeting $1.25 billion for 21st Century Community Learning Centers.
Strengthening Math and Science
Maria knows that especially in a high-tech economy, math and science skills are crucial. That's why she supported the 2001 National Mathematics and Science Partnerships Act, creating several programs to support stronger math and science education in grades K-12. Many of her provisions became law in late 2002. Maria worked to introduce The Protecting America's Competitive Edge (PACE) Acts to increase America's talent pool through higher education investments, incentives for innovation, and scholarships and fellowships for future scientists and teachers. The three PACE Act billsone focusing on education, another on energy, and a third on tax incentivesrepresent a comprehensive and coordinated approach to boosting innovation and creating high-quality jobs. The education bill includes 10,000 slots for 4-year scholarships for future math and science teachers, and training programs for current math and science teachers.
Bringing Technology to the Classroom
Technology in our classroom should be used as effectively as possible. Maria's bipartisan plan, which became law in 2002, requires recipients of technology grants to have a plan for properly integrating the technology and fully training teachers to use it. The amendment sprang from her National Digital School Districts Act. Maria has also supported the Enhancing Education Through Technology program to help teachers learn about using technology in their classrooms as part of their curriculum. This program also allows school districts to expand parental involvement, data driven decision making and online assessment initiatives.
Giving Every Child a Chance
Maria understands that it takes time to get ready for college. That's why she pushed hard to defend the GEAR UP program, which was targeted for elimination in the president's 2006 budget. Maria cosponsored the Senate-passed Minority Serving Institution Digital and Wireless Technology Opportunity Act of 2003. The legislation provides $250 million for technology instruction and upgraded digital and wireless equipment in schools serving minorities. She also supports the DREAM Act to help long-term undocumented children to earn college degrees and become legal residents. The federal government also has the responsibility to make sure that every child is given a fair chance and supported to the best of their abilities with special education and disadvantaged learning programs. That's why Maria has always supported both Title I and IDEA and worked hard to make sure that these programs have all the tools to be effective.
Expanding Career and Technical Education
Maria knows that we need to enhance and expand traditional career technical education. That's why she's worked to protect and expand programs under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, such as Tech Prep. In high school, Tech Prep alters the curriculum to increase the relevance of academic subjects, demonstrating the link between knowledge and careers. At the college level, Tech Prep helps assure curricula are consistent with current practices in the workplace and supports design of effective teaching strategies.
Extending Lifelong Learning and Job Training
Maria believes that learning doesn't stop at the end of high school or even college. Americans ought to be able to have access to lifelong learning. In 2005, she led the fight to restore funding for Adult Basic Education programs to assist adults with completing their GED, English proficiency classes and literacy education - programs like WIA and adult basic education. Maria cosponsored the Employee Educational Assistance Act, to make the tax exclusion for employer-provided educational assistance permanent and extend tax free the same assistance for graduate studies. Maria has also worked to make sure that job training is extended to more Americans. She's introduced bills to support innovative projects that use technology to deliver training services, as well as to provide critical information about training opportunities and supportive services. A bill she wrote would help incumbent workers by providing funds for local workforce boards to convene education institutions, business and industry and supportive service agencies to assess industry-specific skills gaps and develop strategies to address these gaps.
Using the GI Bill for Life
When Guard members and Reservists return home, they need increased access to education and additional training opportunities through the Montgomery GI Bill. While almost all soldiers contribute to the GI Bill program during their military service, only about half take advantage of the education benefits before they expire ten years later. Maria introduced the "GI Bill for Life" so that the men and women who serve our country will always have the door to higher education open to them. Veterans should not face an arbitrary time limit that keeps them from attending school. After leaving the military, some servicemembers postpone going to school in order to support their families. The GI Bill for Life would ensure that servicemembers and veterans can seek education and job training opportunities when it is the right time for them.
Expanding Education Opportunities for Military Families
It's not fair that local school districts that educate our military families often lose tax revenue because of the federal presence in their district - like Fort Lewis Army Base. Districts are forced to cut corners and children suffer. That's why Maria supports the Impact Aid program of basic support payments for children in those local school districts to help schools with construction and upgrades or maintenance so they don't have to spend teacher salaries to fix infrastructure.
Helping Students Move from Community College to 4-Year Programs
To increase the transfer rates of community college students to 4-year colleges and universities, Maria sponsored the Community College Partnership Act of 2005. This works to identify barriers and creates programs to help students manage the transfer.
Keeping Schools In Good Repair
Maria knows that for students to learn best, schools ought to be up-to-date, welcoming, and supportive of both individual learning and positive social relationships. New school construction, with those principles in mind, is urgent: Maria has supported school modernization nationwide.
Encouraging Public Service
The Youth Service Scholarship Act of 2005, of which Maria is an original cosponsor, creates a Public Service Incentives college scholarship for low-income students who have performed at least 300 hours of community service in two years of high school and continue that service in their first college year. Students who are eligible for the school lunch program and Pell Grants could receive $5000 per academic year if they maintain a 3.0 GPA.