Both political parties have failed to address the tragic decline of our system of public education, but it is the Democratic Party - our party - which must question how we have allowed ourselves to drift so far from our mission. Fighting on behalf of our nation's most vulnerable individuals is what our party stands for. I will fight to help return the Democratic Party to its rightful place as a champion of children, first and foremost, in America's public education systems.
I have had and will have the courage to challenge a status quo that fails too many families. I believe that we must tackle our nation's educational crisis using every possible tool at our disposal. I support investment in our next generation of Americans and believe that the key to our successful future is education.
Educating our children is the best possible investment for our nation and that is why I continue to be a strong fighter for public education. Throughout my six-year term as the statewide member of the Colorado State Board of Education, which I was selected by my colleagues to serve as its first Democratic Chairman in over thirty years, I had the opportunity to observe our public education system up close. During my tenure, I successfully worked to establish new ways to help schools close the learning gap; improve access to online education and expand the use of technology in classrooms; helped win increased funding for at-risk students; and worked to strengthen teacher preparation programs at our colleges and universities.
I strongly believe that an adequately funded public education system can give every student the opportunity to succeed. Seeing Colorado's schools losing funding, in 2000 I played a critical leadership role in building a coalition to successfully pass Amendment 23, which has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding for Colorado's public schools. And in 2006, I co-chaired a successful $300 million bond initiative in the Boulder Valley School District to make repairs and upgrades to learning environments as well as improve energy efficiency.
Parents rightfully want to have meaningful choices in public education because there is no school that is perfect for every student. Our public education system should serve the needs of all kids. If we are to serve all students and help them reach their full potential, we must take bold and innovative steps to educate all children, and especially those most at risk of dropping out. That is why I founded two charter schools that serve the unique needs of homeless and new immigrant youth. In recent years, I have also explored important educational issues in depth by chairing the National Association of State Boards of Education Commission on Financial and Investor Literacy, and co-chairing the Colorado State Board of Education Online Education Task Force and the Colorado Commission on High School Improvement.
Ensuring that each and every child has the opportunity to learn and thrive has been the center of my public life and I have a long and proven track record of successfully bringing new and bold ideas into action for meaningful reform. But all of us who work closely with students and schools know that our education system is losing ground and children are being left behind. That is why I want to go to Washington and fight for a new direction in education, restore the promise of public schools and give every student the opportunity to succeed.
In a global economy, educational achievement is more important than ever. As your Congressman, I will work hard to promote innovation in education and expand investment in our nation's future - our children. My priorities for a quality public education system include:
Early Childhood Education
* Universal Access to Preschool: We know that children enrolled in preschool experience tremendous life-long benefits. From improved educational outcomes, to reduced incarceration rates, to lower teen pregnancy rates, the payoff from an investment in a quality early childhood education is clear. But to make sure that all kids are ready to learn when they start kindergarten, we need to increase federal resources for preschool and capture their long-term gains. An important first step is to expand and strengthen Head Start, as well as other child-care and preschool education programs.
* Promote Parental Involvement: A child's education begins and develops at home and we need to raise the bar of expectations for parents, not only for educators. The school is not a "black box" that can work miracles independent of families because education goes well beyond the school building. We need to inform families about the importance of education; encourage parental involvement; and promote awareness and investment in the early childhood education system.
* Defend our public education system: I strongly oppose alternatives that divert attention and resources from efforts to reduce class size, enhance teacher quality, and provide every student with books, computers, and safe and orderly public schools. Vouchers, and other elitist plans to subsidize students in private schools weaken our efforts to improve public schools. Taxpayer money should not be used to support private schools.
* Invest in Teachers: Teacher quality is a crucial factor for student achievement, but unfortunately too often teachers are underappreciated and unfairly criticized. We need to train, attract, retain, support and reward successful teachers, especially in struggling school districts. My experience in education has taught me that there is no tougher, more important job than teaching, and teachers need to be compensated like professionals. Establishing a minimum $40,000 starting salary for all pre-K-12 teachers, raising the national average teacher pay and offering incentives for young teachers through scholarships, mentoring and federal student loan cancellation are among my priorities.
* Reform and Fund the No Child Left Behind Act: We need to improve No Child Left Behind by adding flexibility and identifying indicators of achievement beyond standardized test scores. At the same time, the federal government needs to increase education funding so schools can meet its mandates. Instead of unfunded mandates that penalize schools, the federal government needs to fulfill its promises and provide them with the tools they need to implement changes and succeed.
* Strengthen Accountability: Test scores are a picture of how we are doing and point out areas where improvement is needed. But while testing is a valuable indicator of effectiveness in the areas it measures (math, reading, writing, and science), it does not tell us everything we need to know about our schools and students' progress. We need to include assessment tools that measure learning broadly and across many areas, such as history, civics, geography, financial literacy, and the arts. We need to know whether students can think critically, solve problems, and communicate well - essential skills for both college and work.
* Support Innovation: To successfully ensure equal opportunity and improve education quality for all students, including at-risk youth, we must invest in innovative school reform and promote informed parental choice. That is why I support increased funding for Title V promising and innovative strategies, such as public charter schools that encourage the use of creative teaching methods, help close the achievement gap, and demonstrate results and high levels of parental satisfaction, as well as programs for gifted and talented students, technology centers, professional development, class size reduction programs, library services and instructional and media materials, and parental assistance.
* Offer Additional Programs: To reduce high school dropout rates, we need to invest in dropout-prevention programs such as after-school programs. To increase college access, we must support summer learning and college coursework in high school through Advanced Placement and dual enrollment programs. By expanding support for such efforts, we can make sure that all kids stay in school, graduate with a high school diploma, and are prepared to go to college or enter the workforce ready to succeed.
* Increase Financial Aid: Ensuring that college is within reach for all, regardless of economic background, is my higher education priority. Many students use the Pell Grant to help pay for college. But in the face of soaring tuition and fees, the grant's purchasing power has been reduced significantly and now covers only one-third of the costs of a public four-year college. We must restore the Pell Grant's value and enable more Americans go to college by increasing its maximum value from $4,050 to $5,800. Federal tuition tax credits should also become refundable and offset costs other than tuition and fees, to help the vast majority of low- and moderate-income students.
* Give Hope and Opportunity: Every year, thousands of undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools but are unable to work legally, join the military, pay in-state college tuition rates at public colleges and universities or apply for financial aid. That is why I support the DREAM Act. By providing a legal path to citizenship through college or the military, we can transform the lives of children who were brought here by their parents through no fault of their own and who have stayed in school and out of trouble.
* Student Loan Debt Relief: Reducing interest rates and fees on subsidized student loans, stopping deceptive marketing practices, and ensuring that the student loan program is treating students fairly will provide much-needed relief to American families. In addition, the cost savings can be used to finance expanded need-based scholarship programs.