Education is the key to future success and a strong economy. We must work to expand educational opportunities for all students in Illinois and throughout the nation. The future of our country depends on the education we provide to our children today, and we must invest in them.
Paying for college is harder than it used to be. Over the last five years, the combined cost of tuition, fees, and room and board at four-year public colleges and universities increased by 42 percent. Students and families are struggling to pay these costs. College graduates should be leaving school with unlimited possibilities before them, but these choices are increasingly limited by student loan debt, and our nation is in danger of losing a generation of public servants.
I am working to ensure that all students can receive a college education without saddling themselves with a mountain of debt. This means lowering student loan interest rates and raising the Pell Grant. It also means overturning a 2005 change in the law that protects privately issued student loans during bankruptcy. We must also address the rising expenses of higher education, including the price of textbooks. Increasing federal financial aid to students will be irrelevant if the cost of college continues to outpace those gains. Bright, hard-working students deserve the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them. We must ensure that they are not held back by the high cost of higher education.
No Child Left Behind
The No Child Left Behind Act was designed to hold states and school districts accountable for academic outcomes and to close the achievement gap among students. These are good goals. Disaggregating the test scores makes it easier for us to see the achievement gaps between groups of students in our schools. No Child Left Behind also has highlighted the importance of teacher quality. But NCLB has also created problems. Students, teachers, parents, and administrators are frustrated with unintended consequences of the law. Perhaps the easiest to recognize is the focus on test scores, which often limits flexibility in the classroom. The law has never been fully funded.
No Child Left Behind needs to be reevaluated and restructured to better fit the needs of our children and schools. Schools in high poverty areas will need the financial support that this law promised. We should improve the way success is measured, since one high-stakes test narrows the curriculum. Teachers feel pressure to "teach to the test" at the expense of science, social studies, art, music, and physical education programs. Measuring success through standardized test scores has also created frustration for special education students, students whose first language isnt English, and students in smaller school districts. Finally, we need to do a better job of placing highly qualified teachers in every classroom. Effective teachers are the essential factor in successful education, and the federal government should be a partner in the recruitment, retention, and development of teachers.
Early Education and Child Care
Pre-school children who receive early education are more prepared for school than other children the same age who havent been in school. Programs like Head Start ensure that all children, regardless of the income bracket of their parents, have the chance to be in school during the earliest years of development.
I will continue to fight for more funding at the federal level for affordable, high quality early childhood education and safe, quality child care. These programs help children and families in Illinois and nationwide prepare for kindergarten, so that they are ready to learn when school starts.
Recent research suggests that high-quality teachers are the single most important factor in securing a good education. A student can take several years to make up for lost educational gains after one year in a classroom with a poor-quality instructor. If we want to improve public education, we need to focus on recruiting and retaining strong teachers, especially in high-need schools and critical subject areas such as science, math, and special education.
Our country is quickly approaching a crisis of competitiveness. Other countries are making tremendous gains in science and innovation. To compete, we need to confront this challenge directly at its source: our schools. Schools should stress proficiency in science, technology, engineering, math, and foreign languages, and incentivize students to seek careers in those fields. We should encourage scientists, engineers, and technology professionals to return to the classroom and use their experiences to inspire students.I have introduced legislation to make that easier for professionals by offering grants and loan forgiveness to those who choose to teach these subjects in high-need schools.
I also have introduced legislation to address the major cause of the nationwide nursing shortage-- not enough nurse educators. My bill would provide grants to colleges of nursing to improve their ability to train, recruit and retain nurse faculty. Our efforts to place superior teachers in our classrooms now will pay dividends in the future.
In 1975, Congress passed an early version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which requires all public schools to accept and educate children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. This historic law recognizes our obligation to educate all children.
The next step is to provide schools with the resources they need to meet this goal. The federal government has never fully funded IDEA. We cannot expect schools to bring all students to the standards of No Child Left Behind if they do not have the resources they need. I will continue to advocate for a free and appropriate public education for all children, and I will work for full funding of the law.