Our nation is rooted in the belief that all Americans deserve an equal opportunity to achieve the American dream. In today's world, a quality education is crucial to the realization of that dream. We are blessed to live in a country that promises every child access to a free, public education, and we should be proud that American universities are regarded as the finest in the world. Despite the great achievements of the past, our nation can do better.
Today, our top priority in education should be to increase American competitiveness within the international community by meeting our responsibility to invest in our nation's children and ensuring that every student has equal access to a quality education.
We must fully fund and effectively amend the No Child Left Behind Act. This well-intentioned legislation challenges our students and our schools to raise their standards and set the demanding goals necessary for our future leaders to succeed in the 21st Century. However, we cannot expect higher achievement if we do not give our students, schools, and teachers the extensive resources required to meet these challenges. Moreover, as we strive for higher standards, Congress must ensure that it does not place test scores above a quality, well-rounded education and that we do not settle for uniform mediocrity.
Essential to any successful education reforms are the men and women who dedicate their lives to educating our youth: our teachers and school administrators. They deserve to be better paid and better trained so that we do not lose our nation's talented, young graduates to more lucrative professions.
Teaching can sometimes be a thankless job in the best of circumstances, but even more so in the dilapidated schools of our nation's inner cities and rural communities. We must reward those dedicated individuals who teach in our country's neediest schools and provide much-deserved incentives to attract talented teachers to these underserved areas.
Of course, a quality education begins at home, which is why it is also important to involve parents in their children's education and for our schools and policy makers to make use of them as the indispensable resources that they are.
While we work to strengthen our K-12 educational system, Congress cannot ignore that a college education is increasingly becoming prohibitively expensive. A college degree is unquestionably the most important factor in determining the long-term future of both individuals and our country as a whole. As such, a college degree should be accessible to anyone who desires it.
With college costs rising at a rate faster than inflation, I believe Congress should do all it can to make a college education more affordable and attainable. It is for this reason that I voted in favor of H.R. 2669, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, which was signed into law in September 2007. This legislation cut the interest rate on subsidized student loans in half, raises the maximum value of Pell Grants, and marks the largest increase in student aid since the G.I. Bill in 1944.
Additionally, more grants and low-interest student loans should be made available to our next generation of teachers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. We can no longer think of a college degree as a luxury reserved to those able to afford it, post-secondary education has now become a necessity to simply participate in today's ever-changing global society.
I also believe in the role that education and educational institutions can play in strengthening our communities. When students have well-funded after-school programs, they are less likely to turn to drug use and delinquency. Further, access to an adequate education, as well as educational institutions themselves, can have a profound effect in ending the cycle of violence and poverty that plagues far too many of America's cities and towns.
It is for this reason that I authored legislation and offered it as an amendment to the College Opportunity and Affordability Act in 2008 that creates a nationwide grant program for community colleges to enter into and maintain partnerships with juvenile detention centers. These partnerships will provide ex-offenders with a supportive learning environment where they can attain marketable skills and the credentials needed for a constructive re-entry into society, thereby reducing the likelihood that they will return to a life of crime.
If our children are to be productive members of this increasingly competitive, global economy, they deserve and need quality schools with well-paid teachers and affordable access to a college education. We live in a nation of numerous resources and continual technological advancements. There is no reason why our country should not be the world's leader in educational achievement. Rest assured that I will continue to work tirelessly with the nation's leaders in education as well as teachers, administrators, students, and parents to find the best solutions to improve America's educational system.