Early Childhood Education
The foundation for success in elementary school begins with early literacy and preschool. Decades of research have emphasized the importance of high quality childcare and preschool in improving children's early development and educational achievement throughout adolescence and beyond.
As you may know, the Head Start program offers children of low-income families a preschool experience designed to prepare them for entrance into elementary school. The program aims to improve a child's growth in language, literacy, mathematics, science, social and emotional functioning, health and physical skills. I am proud to support the Head Start program because I know it works. Studies show this program improves cognitive development, helps to narrow the achievement gap facing low-income children and develops greater parental involvement in a child's education both inside and outside the classroom. Last year, we reauthorized Head Start in enacting H.R. 1429, the Improving Head Start Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-134). While this legislation authorized $7.35 billion for FY 08, President Bush's budget unfortunately only sought $7 billion for the program. Without additional funding, Head Start can only meet the needs of 42 percent of the eligible population. In support of early childhood development, I have sent multiple letters to the House Budget Committee leadership, requesting significant increases for not only Head Start but also Early Head Start and Child Care and Development Block Grants (CCDBG) for FY09.
I also strongly support funding for Reading is Fundamental (RIF), whose goal is to improve literacy in elementary school children by providing free books through the U.S. Department of Education's Inexpensive Book Distribution Program. This year, I have signed a letter requesting a continuation of FY 08 funding at $26 million for FY 09. Additionally, I have co-sponsored H.R. 4449, the Prescribe a Book Act. This legislation would authorize a five-year $85 million federal pediatric early literacy competitive grant program based on the successful Reach Out and Read (ROR) program, which I have also strongly supported funding for over the last several years. This organization emphasizes early literacy through physician-sponsored reading programs. Clinicians discuss and encourage reading to children during examinations, and donate a book to each child age six months to five years. In addition, ROR volunteers read to children in waiting rooms before appointments.
Elementary and Secondary Education
A strong education system provides Americans from across the country the knowledge and training they need to be successful leaders and innovators of tomorrow. Of billions being spent nationwide on education at all levels, about 90 percent comes from state, local, and private sources, making education a state and local responsibility. However, federal legislation significantly alters the landscape of elementary, secondary, and higher education. I am committed to ensuring that accomplishments on a federal level build a stronger education system with quality curriculum that equips students to meet the domestic and global demands of the 21st century.
Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind
As a longtime supporter of public schools, I believe the government plays a crucial role in guiding policy and providing the resources to help millions of Americans become well-rounded and productive citizens. Our economy relies upon and benefits from an educated workforce in all fields, which is why I am committed to investing in the future of our citizenry by improving public education. In fact, during the 110th Congress, I have sent numerous letters to President Bush, to the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and to the leadership of the House Budget Committee requesting a substantial increase in funding for NCLB. Unfortunately, President Bush's proposed budget again under funds the law by nearly $15 billion for a total shortfall of over $85 billion since NCLB's enactment seven years ago.
The purpose of this law is to improve student achievement by implementing measures for adequate yearly progress (AYP), stronger accountability standards and objectives for proficiency. Throughout my time as your representative in the United States Congress, I have heard concern from a number of educators about the impact of this law, namely how a lack of funding and the emphasis on standardized testing has undermined a meaningful educational experience for students. While I wholly believe in helping American students become more proficient in core subjects, I believe the standards we set at the federal level must be feasible and accompanied by adequate federal funding to help our most needy students.
I will continue to advocate for full funding for NCLB and have also joined as a co-sponsor of H.R. 627, the Keeping our Promise to America's Children and Teachers (PACT) Act. This legislation would appropriate otherwise unspecified Treasury funds to meet authorized funding levels for NCLB for the next six years. I have also joined as a co-sponsor of H.R. 2846, the Improving Student Learning and Classroom Performance Act, which would provide $200 million per year for grants to states to improve the quality, validity and reliability of state and local academic assessments. I am also a co-sponsor of H.R. 2928, the Graduation Promise Act, which would provide $2.5 billion for secondary school improvement programs, targeted to the lowest performing high schools with the highest dropout rates in the country.
Educating Children with Disabilities
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal statute that supports states in their obligation to meet the needs of educating children with disabilities. IDEA and its reauthorizations stipulate that funding will meet 40 percent of the excess costs of providing special education to these children, compared to expenditures for basic education. Unfortunately, though funding has increased significantly since the early 1990's, IDEA has never been fully funded. On average, Georgia only spends about 75 percent of the national average per special education student. Any increase in funding would help to decrease the burden on our state so it may focus money in many different areas of basic education. As such, I am pleased to join as a co-sponsor of H.R. 821, the Everyone Deserves Unconditional Access to Education (EDUCATE) Act. This bill sets a minimum funding level for each year FY 07 to FY 16, at which time the level of funding would be appropriated at the 40 percent as authorized.
Ensuring School Safety
Combating school violence demands significant community involvement, oversight and coordination between law enforcement, elected leaders, schools, parents and youth. We need to think of innovative ways to reach out to youth; supporting safe and fun activities at times when youth have less parental supervision. I will do all I can to work with communities in the 13th District to help them address this matter. I am a co-sponsor of H.R. 2352, the School Safety Enhancements Act of 2007, which would increase funding for the Secure Our Schools program through the Department of Justice. This program provides matching funds to school districts to create safer learning environments through security enhancements, security personnel training and coordination with law enforcement agencies.
I have also sent letters to the Appropriations Committee in support of increased funding for the availability of safe after school programs in my district. Students in our communities are much more likely to engage in risky behavior during unsupervised after-school hours. In Georgia, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program provides supervised activities benefiting academic enrichment and literacy services to students and families. Yet due to decreased funding, only 6 percent of new applicants will be able to receive funding this year. I am pleased the FY 08 Labor/HHS bill will increase funding for CCLC by $50 million as part of a total $125 million increase for all after-school centers.
I also sent a letter in support of increased funding for the Safe and Drug Free School and Communities and Drug Free Communities program. Programs all over my district have provided students with drug prevention and problem solving resources to help them make good decisions and avoid drugs. Research indicates that gangs are heavily involved in the distribution of illegal drugs. The 2005 National Gang Threat Assessment estimates that 60 percent of gangs were "moderately to highly involved" in drug trafficking at the street level. By supporting the availability of these programs, we can help students make good choices in order to steer them from a life of drugs and criminal activity.
Strengthening Our Schools
Georgia must ensure that all students receive a quality education so they may be prepared to enter the workforce and our communities as productive citizens. In order to guarantee students are educated in an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, we must combat the issues of overcrowding in 13th District schools by promoting teacher recruitment programs and tax credits for building new facilities. Researchers project Metro Atlanta has the third-fastest growing child population in the country - some 120,000 schoolchildren will enter area schools over five years. Without additional schools and teachers, many of our children may fall behind further.
As such, I support initiatives to expand programs that give incentive to individuals to teach as a career. I have joined as a co-sponsor of the Teaching Fellows Act, H.R 1828. This legislation is modeled after a successful program in North Carolina that begins to identify and support high school students who want to enter teaching early on. Funding would support scholarships for students within or entering college, as well as professional support for development of skills or certification for community college students. Conditionally, the participants would be required to teach in public schools for four years or three years in low-performing schools. Language in this bill also encourages the program's involvement at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Overcrowded schools correlate to decreased academic performance and increased disciplinary problems, two problems which demand much greater attention. I am also a co-sponsor of H.R. 2470, the America's Better Classroom Act, which would authorize $25 billion for school modernization projects over two years for zero-interest school modernization bonds.
Career and Technical Education
I have also sent a letter requesting restoring funding for career and technical education programs under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. President Bush's budget once again cuts the Perkins Act entirely. Unlike job training programs through JobCorps and YouthBuild, career and technical education programs are in the traditional secondary school setting and remain an important area of education for individuals who may not pursue a traditional liberal arts education.
Clayton County School Accreditation
I have been closely following this issue, and I recognize what consequences students may face if the school system loses its accreditation. Besides allegations of ethics violations and mismanagement against school board members, there are endemic problems within the system that must be addressed so that our students can feel assured their diploma has weight and will help them progress toward higher education. Unfortunately, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has recommended the Clayton County school system lose its accreditation if it and the school board do not meet a list of SACS objectives by September 1, 2008. AdvancED, the organization that oversees SACS, has upheld this decision. Although this is local matter, I am working to identify any ways in which I can assist Clayton County in order to prevent the loss of accreditation from occurring. I have contacted the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, as well as the U.S. Department of Education to alert federal officials of this crisis. I recommend that all citizens of Clayton County make themselves aware of the nine mandates that must be met by September in order for the school system to retain its accreditation. I also encourage my constituents to contact their state and local elected officials to urge them to act swiftly to address this issue.
Improving the Ability to Finance Higher Education
More than 20 million American students benefit from programs and assistance offered by the Department of Education. As such, I was pleased to support H.R. 2669, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act when it came to the floor for a vote in September. This legislation is the single largest investment in higher education since the GI Bill. H.R. 2669 cuts interest rates on federal loans and increases loan limits and Pell Grant awards over the next five years. This law will also provide loan forgiveness for a number of sectors including educators, first responders, law enforcement, nurses, and invests $500 million in HBCU's and other minority serving institutions to ensure college access and retention programs. Of the $500 million, H.R. 2669 also authorizes $15 million for predominantly black institutions, like Clayton State University, where black students make up more than fifty percent of the student body. Most importantly, this legislation commits to cutting our federal deficit by $750 million while also expanding access to college financing opportunities for millions of American students. On September 26, President Bush signed the bill into law.
Supporting Reservists Pursuing Higher Education
Men and women who serve in the armed forces are provided with federal funds to avail themselves of a college education. However, military service often means that families must relocate from base to base. Recognizing the unique position that this creates for families who need and desire the advantage of in state tuition, I have joined as a co-sponsor of H.R. 530, the Military Education Parity Act, which would prohibit a member of the armed forces on active duty for a period of more than 30 days from being charged tuition for attendance at a public institution of higher education in that state at a greater rate than that charged for residents of that state.