Since the beginning of my career in public service, public education has always been one of my top priorities. As the son of an elementary school teacher, as well as a product of Connecticut's public schools, I know the value of Connecticut's public school system. During my eight years in the Connecticut State Legislature, the schools in my district received a record increase in funding for public education, which resulted in a much higher quality of education for the students I represented. I have been, and will continue to be, a staunch advocate for public schools in Congress.
Our first priority must be a full scale reform of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I believe there are three major components to this process. First, Congress must fully fund NCLB. It is grossly unfair to students, their families, and teachers to expect a high level of achievement when they are not provided the tools--especially those that were promised--for success. I will continue to fight for the complete funding of NCLB. Second, I strongly support changing how progress is measured under NCLB. Currently, at no fault of their own, school districts are comparing successive classes instead of examining the growth of individual students over time. Third, Congress must give more flexibility to states and school districts to determine Adequate Yearly Process (AYP). High stakes testing does not provide a broad assessment for evaluating educational improvement. There are many factors, beyond a one-day score on a standardized test, that help educators measure performance and those should be included if we truly want the most full and clear picture of our students' academic progress. For example, graduation and attendance rates, as well as curriculum measures, are important indicators of school success.
We must also renew our federal commitment to early childhood education -- the foundation upon which all future academic success is built. Studies have consistently shown that kids who have access to an early childhood education have a better chance of graduating high school, holding a job, and earning more money than their counterparts who did not. Years of funding cuts to Head Start have strained, and sometimes devastated, local programs. I am committed to fully funding the Head Start Program so that all eligible, low-income preschoolers in Connecticut have the opportunity to participate in the program.
We must also fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The federal government's negligence in not fully funding this critical program has left this overwhelming financial burden to the states and local school districts. In Connecticut, where many school districts are small in size, the IDEA burden overwhelms their budgets and causes cutbacks in programs and services in other areas. Congress must reverse this trend.
Finally, making college affordable for all capable students must be a priority in Washington. On this front, we have had much success. I am proud to have supported the College Cost Reduction Act of 2007, which reduced the interest rate on need-based federal student loans from 6.8% to 3.4% and increased the maximum allowable Pell Grant by $500 per year. This was an important first step in making college affordable to as many students as possible.