Like you, I want Delaware's school system to be the best that it can be. That was my goal when I served as governor and remains so today in the U.S. Senate.
As governor, I emphasized the importance of rigorous standards and raising student achievement. I also instituted optional training for parents to give them and their children more choices in education by championing public school choice and the creation of charter schools.
Now more than ever, we need to make sure that our schools at all levels set out to achieve their fundamental mission--to prepare the next generation of Americans to be part of the workforce that will help rejuvenate our economy and re-establish America's economic might. By improving our failing schools, increasing access to higher education, fully funding schools and education programs, and providing positive role models to our nation's youth through programs like mentoring, we can kick start our economy and increase the standard of living for all Americans.
Addressing Failing Schools -- When I came to the Senate in 2001, I was convinced that much of what had been accomplished in Delaware in the area of education reform could serve as a model for the rest of America. That's why the very first bill I introduced, the Empowering Parents Act, provided more options for parents whose children were in failing schools. It encouraged communities with low-performing schools to experiment with universal public school choice and helped leverage financing for new charter school start-ups. The Empowering Parents Act was included in the No Child Left Behind Act, which became law in January 2002, and is a critical law that we will reauthorize within the year.
This year, I was very pleased that President Obama has added to his cabinet Arne Duncan, a champion of school innovation and school choice, as U.S. Secretary of Education. As we move toward the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, I will work with Secretary Duncan to make sure that this law enhances parents, teachers, schools and communities' ability to raise student performance and repair failing schools.
Higher Education -- We can all agree that education does not end with high school. Yet since 2001, the cost of college has increased by more than 40 percent. That's why I worked to pass the bipartisan, College Cost Reduction and Access Act and the College Opportunity and Affordability Act. These bills took great step to reduce the cost of college by increasing Pell Grants, cutting federal student loan interest rates in half, granting loan forgiveness for students who perform public service for 10 years, increasing funding for minority-serving colleges and universities, simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to an easy-to-understand, two-page form, and providing financial aid and increased student loan options for veterans and military families.
I also voted for the Post-9/11 GI Bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, which ultimately pays for the complete education and student housing costs of military personnel who have served 90 continuous days of active duty service after 9-11-2001 and 36 total months of active duty service.
These bills were a good first step toward reducing the cost of college for all Americans, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to further close the affordability gap in the 111th Congress.
Fully Funding our Schools and Education Programs -- When we passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, we put the country on a path to ensuring that all students get the education they need and deserve. However, under the previous administration, the commitment to fully fund this endeavor fell short. Across the country, schools have been burdened with teacher shortages and classrooms are unequipped to properly instruct students. These problems have only grown worse with the current economic crisis that has forced our states to deal with budget cutbacks.
That is why I worked hard to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) early in 2009. This bill gave each governor significant funding to plug holes in the states' education budgets and prevent teacher layoffs. Additionally, this funding would allow schools to modernize their facilities and conduct renovations that would improve energy efficiency.
The ARRA bill also provided a $13 billion injection of federal funding for supplementary education services for high-needs schools all across the country, and gave $13 billion to schools to help bolster their special education programs.
During the 111th Congress, I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the Administration to ensure that we follow through on our commitment to funding our children's education.
Mentoring -- As a long-time mentor myself, I truly believe there's no greater way to make a difference in the life of a child. Mentoring programs are not only advantageous to our students in terms of their intellectual and social development, but they are also deeply rewarding to the advisors. Delaware has shown communities across the country the power of mentoring for quite a while. I have helped recruit thousands of mentors as part of a statewide effort to help at-risk children and foster academic achievement. Such programs are integral part of our school system in Delaware and across the country.
As my colleagues and I consider legislation in the 111th Congress that impacts the educational future of our children, I will continue to support initiatives that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our public school system, and the affordability and accessibility of higher education across the nation.