Congresswoman Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) today voted in favor of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, H.R. 3221, to ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable educational opportunities, from birth through college, to better prepare students for 21st century jobs. The House passed the measure 253 yeas to 171 nays.
A key part of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act is the creation of the Early Learning Challenge Fund, a competitive grant program to support states' efforts to improve the quality of their early education programs. Much of the framework of the Early Learning Challenge Fund is based on Hirono's PRE-K Act (Providing Resources Early for Kids, H.R. 702), a bill Congresswoman Hirono introduced in 2007, and one of only a handful of bills to be successfully marked up by the House Education and Labor Committee in the 110th Congress. The PRE-K Act was reintroduced earlier this year.
"I am especially excited about today's successful vote on the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, and in particular, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, as it is the result of many, many hours of hard work on behalf of our youngest learners," said Congresswoman Hirono. "As we have heard from the many experts who have testified before our committee, quality early education is foundational for success in school and in life. Thanks to the dedication of President Obama and my colleagues in the House, this legislation will help provide that educational spark."
Please click on the following link to view Congresswoman Hirono's floor speech addressing the need to boost quality early education: http://www.youtube.com/user/CongresswomanHirono#play/all/uploads-all/0/amnw20hNWSk
Congresswoman Hirono has long been a champion of quality early education. As Lieutenant Governor she was instrumental in the creation of Hawaii's Pre-Plus Program, a public-private partnership that provides facilities for preschool programs throughout the state.
Because of her record and advocacy for early education as a member of the Education and Labor Committee, the Chairman of the Committee, Congressman George Miller, asked Congresswoman Hirono to take the lead on quality early learning issues. After working with Chairman Miller and the committee, Congresswoman Hirono introduced the PRE-K Act.
The PRE-K Act emphasizes two key elements that the Congresswoman thought were critical to effective early education legislation: this bill creates a competitive grant program that will support, not supplant, states' efforts, so the federal government is better able to partner with states and encourage the successful initiatives many states already have in place. The bill also emphasizes quality early education, as evidence shows that quality early learning makes a significant difference in the educational and social outcomes of our children.
Hirono's leadership on this issue was noted by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who noted that he legislation paved the way for the Early Learning Challenge Fund, noting that the initiative would not have been possible without the Congresswoman's leadership and support.
The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act is the single largest investment in student financial aid in history, without adding to the taxpayers' burden. By reforming the federal student loan system, this bill will save $87 billion in taxpayer money; $10 billion of these savings will be redirected back to the Treasury to reduce entitlement spending. Additional savings from these reforms will increase the maximum awards for Pell Grants by over $1,500, up to $6,900 per grant, by the 2019 school year, and will keep interest rates for federal student loans low so more students and families will be able to access higher education.
"This legislation will provide an immediate boost to college students in Hawaii. Eligible students in the islands will have access to more than $82 million in Pell Grant scholarships. $54 million of those scholarship funds will available to my constituents in Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District," said Congresswoman Hirono.
The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act also includes funding for the College Access Challenge Grant program which will deliver $750,000 a year to the islands over the next five years, helping more students to enroll in and graduate from college. In addition, the bill aims to boost America's community colleges by providing $10 billion to modernize campus facilities and promote local partnerships, so community colleges are better able to prepare students for high demand jobs in the communities they serve. Hawaii will receive close to $9.7 million to help finance community college renovation projects.
The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act now goes before the U.S. Senate for consideration.