Access to high quality and affordable education must transcend financial and socio-economic divisions. Since being elected to Congress, I have worked to ensure parents and guardians have the opportunity to provide their children with the academic tools and skills necessary to succeed in their future education and career paths. The federal government shapes and influences elementary and secondary education through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). I believe the Federal government has an important role to play in supporting state and local governments by setting goals and providing funding that will ensure that all children have the opportunity to thrive in the classroom.
As Congress considers the reauthorization of NCLB, all of our children, including students with disabilities and students learning English as a second language, must have access to a quality education. Equally, our elementary and secondary schools must be supported with appropriate financial resources and sound policies for students to succeed in the classroom and compete with their peers around the globe. Prior to the enactment of NCLB, IDEA protected the right of students with disabilities to meet their academic potential in our nation's public school system. Although Congress has struggled to fully fund IDEA, I am committed to allocating the appropriate federal resources to serve the needs of students with disabilities, as well as resolving any conflicts between this statute and NCLB.
Over the last several years, I have been an advocate for programs like the National Writing Project, Education for Democracy Act, and Even Start, three programs that directly benefit students and families of the 15th District by promoting writing skills, civic education and literacy. Even Start, for example, serves our community through early childhood education, adult literacy, parenting education, and interactive parent and child literacy activities. Studies show that a child's ability to prosper is closely linked with his or her parents' education level. This program provides services to roughly 50,000 families in the United States, most of them below the poverty line, through organizations such as the ProJeCt of Easton.
Rising tuition rates are making the cost of post-secondary education increasingly difficult for many families. That is why I have consistently supported efforts to reduce the cost of higher education and provide resources to middle and low income families. Last year, I voted to allocate $18.6 billion for student financial aid. Out of this, $16.8 billion was designated specifically for the Pell Grant program. Pell Grants, which are largely awarded on a financial need basis, can often make the difference in whether a low-income family can afford to send their child to college. I strongly support a robust Pell Grant program.
The turmoil in our financial markets during this recession continues to threaten the availability of student loans. To help mitigate this problem, I voted in favor of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act. This legislation increases the unsubsidized loan limits for dependant and independent undergraduate students. It enables struggling parents who are a few months behind on their mortgage payments to still qualify for the parent PLUS loans, and allows the Department of Education to purchase student loans from federally guaranteed lenders through the 2008-2009 school year. The American economy will rebound, and it will ultimately be driven by the ingenuity of our bright, young minds. That is why we must ensure that access to higher education remains open and available.