Issue Position: Education
"Our children deserve safe, drug-free schools with world-class teachers." - Congressman Mark Kirk
We have a tradition of education excellence in the 10th district. As a former teacher, Congressman Kirk knows first-hand the importance of providing every student with a quality education and a safe place to grow and learn.
Saving Impact Aid
The Impact Aid program for children of military families is especially important in the 10th district and directly affects the schools in North Chicago, Glenview and Highland Park who educate children of parents serving at Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
Congressman Kirk is a leading member of the Congressional Impact Aid Caucus, a bipartisan organization of Senators and Representatives whose districts and states are affected by Impact Aid. The legislative goal of the Caucus is to secure adequate federal aid levels for school districts facing challenges similar to those experienced in North Chicago. Consistent with this goal, in the 109th Congress Congressman Kirk authored H.R. 390, the Government Reservation Accelerate Development for Education Act (GRADE-A), to fully fund the Impact Aid program for local schools. In the 110th Congress, the Congressman introduced bipartisan legislation that he wrote, H.R. 12, an education compact bill to allow North Chicago, Highland Park and Glenview to enter into a tuition agreement, allowing North Chicago to maintain its "heavily impacted' status funding. Senators Obama and Durbin introduced the same bill in the Senate.
In March of 2006, working with the Department of Education (DOE), Congressman Kirk secured an agreement from the Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, to maintain the "heavily impacted' status for schools during the new Navy public-private housing project continued. Under this provision, aid for North Chicago school children will be protected until 2011. Congressman Kirk's success in securing funding for North Chicago schools averted a funding crisis in the near future. He will continue to work with the local communities and our Illinois Senators on securing a long term solution.
Keeping our Children Safe in School
Children have a right to safe and drug-free schools.
Congressman Kirk co-authored the Teacher and Student Safety Act of 2006, H.R. 5295, with Rep. Geoff Davis. This legislation empowers full-time teachers or school officials - when acting on suspicion based on professional experience and judgment - to search students on public school grounds. It also allows states and school districts to conduct reasonable searches to ensure that the schools remain free of all weapons, dangerous materials, and illegal narcotics. The bill has passed the House and is now pending in the Senate.
To protect children from predators in the classroom, Congressman Kirk supported the School Safety Acquiring Faculty Excellence Act (SAFE Act), H.R. 4894 which ensures that schools have permission to review FBI national criminal data before hiring a new employee. H.R. 4894 became law on July 27, 2006.
Reforming No Child Left Behind
While No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provides a crucial level of accountability in the classroom, this law does present some technical problems in its ground-breaking measurement and assessment of education achievement. The Congressman worked closely with education specialists at the Midwestern Regional Education Laboratory (MREL) as well as local education professionals who make up the 10th District Education Advisory Board, to gather data on NCLB implementation. This work resulted in a White paper detailing areas of concern to local schools, coupled with practical solutions to these problems.
On June 29, 2006, Congressman Kirk introduced bipartisan legislation, H.R. 5717, the Education Assessment Technical Corrections Act, to address technical changes to NCLB. The National Education Association endorsed the bill. The language in this legislation is based on MREL's recommendations and received the backing of the National Education Association. Specifically, this Education Assessment Technical Corrections Act focuses on highly-qualified teacher requirements, determinations of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), and NCLB sanctions. This legislation maintains NCLB's important accountability provisions while improving implementation of the law in these key areas.
Increased Funding for Special Education
In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Act authorized funds to assist states in assuring that each child with a disability receives a free and appropriate public education. At the time the act was passed, Congress set a goal of funding 40 percent of the additional costs of education for these children.
From 1976 to 1994, Congress largely ignored the 40% target for funding public school Special Education programs. When Congressman Kirk's predecessor, former Representative John Porter became Chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations Subcommittee in 1995, he began increasing funding to honor this promise. Funding for Special Education increased from 4% to 15% under Porter.
Congress has dramatically increased Special Education funding since taking office in 2001. As the State of Illinois cut back funding, the Congress increased it. Today, Illinois has dropped far behind as the Congress is now the dominant funder of both the Special Education District of Lake County and the North Shore Special Education District.
Congressman Kirk believes it is vitally important to the public school system that Congress upholds its end of the bargain. He is a cosponsor of H.R. 3145, the Mandatory IDEA Full Funding Compromise Act. This legislation dictates that Congress funds the promised 40 percent by the fiscal year 2011.
While Congressman Kirk believes it is crucial that while Congress continues to provide for children not performing at full potential, it must also seek out and support America's most talented students. The Javits Program for Gifted and Talented is focused on helping gifted children and is the only federally-funded national program of its kind. In addition to identifying and supporting gifted students, the Javits program also plays a critical role promoting math and science education.
When funding for the Javits program was not included in the House version of the FY 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill, H.R. 3010, the Congressman authored an amendment to restore funding to the Javits Program for Gifted and Talented. While this amendment was not found in order, he continued to work until funding was restored in the conference report.
Founding the "10th District Laureate" Program
In the fall of 2004, Congressman Kirk launched the 10th District Laureates Program. It is an innovative program that provides gifted students of the community with unique learning opportunities outside the classroom. This program brings seventh graders from across the district to meet one Saturday every month to enjoy behind-the-scenes access to the top academic and cultural institutions in Chicago and the suburbs.
Currently it has a membership of 24 students from 12 different school districts. This year the students participated in "Mini-medical school", which culminated with the viewing of a live heart bypass surgery. Next fall, the focus of the program will be engineering and nanotechnology.
Mentoring the Student Leadership Advisory Board
Congressman Mark Kirk formed his Student Leadership Advisory Board in 2001. The Board is comprised of the Junior Class, Senior Class, and Student Body Presidents from each high school in the Tenth Congressional District. These individuals meet with Congressman Kirk throughout the school year, using each meeting as an opportunity to voice issues of concern, learn from guest speakers, and assist with community projects.
Congressman Kirk has relied heavily on student leaders to develop policy initiatives. SLAB projects include: public service announcements on drunk driving, teen depression and suicide, drug use and internet predators. Also, during its five years of work, the group has helped with the construction of Habitat for Humanity houses; adopted families effected by Hurricane Katrina and sent school supplies to students in Iraq.
Families Involved in Reading Stories Together
Congressman Kirk believes that parents play an important role in their child's classroom success. Students with involved parents have the support system necessary to stay engaged and achieve.
In October of 2005, Congressman Kirk launched the Families Involved in Reading Stories Together (F.I.R.S.T.) program in Lake County. The F.I.R.S.T. program allows parents and children to practice speaking and reading English together. This program allows families to have fun together while playing games, making crafts, using computers, discovering the library and practicing English skills. The classes help parents to better communicate with teachers and assist with their children's homework.