Issue Position: Education
Education and Technology
During my tenure in Congress my technology agenda for education has centered around three pillars: improving the technological infrastructure of America's public schools and libraries; enhancing the technological skills of America's teachers; and using this country's most precious resource - our youth - to develop a culture of equal digital opportunity that leaves no child behind. I, therefore, introduced the Research on High-Performance Networking for Science Education Act, to authorize the National Science Foundation to research projects to develop and assess novel uses of high-performance computer networks for use in science, mathematics, and technology education in elementary and secondary schools.
I also joined with colleagues in leading the effort to ensure adequate funding for three critically important community technology programs. The Technology Opportunities Program (TOP), Community Technology Centers (CTC), and Neighborhood Networks provide crucial assistance to libraries, community centers, after-school programs, and other local organizations offering underserved populations access to information technology and training.
In connection with these efforts I Co-Chair of the House Digital Divide Caucus, which is a Congressional bi-partisan effort created in response to increasing evidence of a technological divide in American society. The technology divide is defined as those who have access to the Internet, the World Wide Web and its capabilities, and those who do not.
Along with other Members of the House Digital Divide Caucus I work to bridge the divide by holding open public forums and to hear from various policy experts, consumer advocates, and corporate decision makers with the purpose of advocating and crafting public policy approaches to closing this technology gap. Members of Congress who advocate technology funding in areas of defense, business, and education know well the struggle for the limited technology resources that are available. The House Digital Divide Caucus has the goal of insuring Internet access for all Americans.
As a strong supporter of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a fundamental civil rights program, it is important for the federal government to provide funds to states for the education of children with disabilities. However, since 1975, Congress has placed yet another unfunded mandate on local communities. Since IDEA became law, Congress has authorized spending of up to forty percent of the cost of the average per pupil expenditure on special education, but has failed to meet that commitment time after time. Fiscal Year 2004 meets 18.6 percent of that commitment, not even half of what we have promised. And this represents the highest percentage since the law was passed.
On November 19, 2004, I voted in favor of H.R. 1350, which reauthorized IDEA and included provisions aimed at improving the collaboration between parents, administrators, educators, and students to provide the best possible education. This legislation also included a timeline for the federal government to reach full funding of IDEA by 2011. Unfortunately, Fiscal Year 2005 spending was $481 million short of the President's request for special education. As such, I introduced H.R. 1107 that would require the federal government to fully fund its share of IDEA now, not set up a timeline for full funding that will likely be ignored.
No Child Left Behind
In supporting the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) when it became law, Congress hoped to strengthen education in this country by enhancing accountability in our public schools, increasing overall funding for education of disadvantaged students, science and math education, and technology programs. Unfortunately, these promises have not come to fruition in the past three years. Fiscal Year 2005 spending for No Child Left Behind comes up $398 million short of the President's request. That is why I cosponsored HR 2394, the Keeping Our Promises to America's Children Act, to allow a state education agency or school district to suspend implementation of NCLB provisions until it is fully funded.
The Higher Education Act (HEA) authorizes the federal government's major student aid programs, as well as other significant programs such as those providing aid to special groups of higher education institutions and support services to enable disadvantaged students to complete secondary school and enter and complete college. The Republican Leadership in Congress allowed the funding authorizations in HEA to expire, but temporarily extended HEA through Fiscal Year 2005. Studies have shown that college costs have risen more rapidly than household income over the past twenty years. This raises significant concerns about the accessibility of a college education, especially as a college degree becomes more and more necessary in the new world economy.
The federal Pell Grant program offers need-based scholarships to undergraduate college students, providing more than $13 billion in grants nationwide to over five million college students from low- and middle-income families. These scholarships, which account for nearly all federal grant assistance to college students, offer valuable support for students and their families who are attempting to contend with rapidly rising tuition costs.
Unfortunately, Fiscal Year 2005 spending once again froze the maximum value of the Pell grant at $4,050 for the second year in a row, despite the fact that the Pell Grant is worth nearly $800 less today, in real terms, than it was 1975-76, according to the College Board. In the First District alone, 9,507 students receive Pell Grants for a total of over $21 million. Increasing the maximum value of Pell Grants to $5,100 would mean an additional $6.5 million for students of the First District.
Since my tenure as President of the Connecticut state senate I have been a strong supporter of the Head Start program, which provides comprehensive child development programs to help increase the school readiness of young children in low-income families. Begun in 1964 under President Lyndon Johnson, Head Start is one of the most evaluated and successful federal programs. Children who attend Head Start exceed national norms in vocabulary; early writing, letter recognition and social behavior, and they enter school better prepared than low-income children who do not attend Head Start. Head Start students are less likely to need special education services, less likely to repeat a grade, more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to commit crimes during adolescence.
On July 25, 2003, I voted against the Head Start reauthorization bill, H.R. 2210, because it would have dismantled the current, successful program with block grants, reduced accountability and ignored performance standards.
Math and Science Education
During this past session, I supported increased funding for the Math and Science Partnership program within the Department of Education for Fiscal Year 2005. This program provides necessary professional development, which strengthens the teachers' ability to effectively teach math and science and strengthens our students' math and science skills. Through formula grants to every state, the Math and Science Partnerships provide crucial teacher professional development by linking school districts with university mathematics, science, and engineering departments.