Education has been a stepping stone to opportunity for my family, as it has been for many Minnesota families. My grandfather didn't graduate from high school, but he worked hard and saved money in a coffee can in the basement so my dad could go to college. My dad went to Ely Junior College (now called Vermilion Community College) in northern Minnesota, where thousands of the sons and daughters of Minnesota's Iron Rangers have taken their first step up toward opportunity and economic security. My mom taught second grade until she was 70. She and my dad taught me the value of education.
A good education should be the basic right of every child. It is certainly one of the very best investments we can make in our future as a nation. Minnesotans have always had the greatest respect for education, and this respect is reflected in the strong support we have given our schools and higher education institutions. We have always believed that investing in education pays extraordinary dividends. Not only does it pay off for the individual, but it pays off for the rest of us by giving us a more productive workforce and better-informed citizens. That is why I am committed to strengthening the commitment of Congress to provide adequate funding for our schools.
Increasingly, our colleges and universities are being challenged by rising costs, and so are students and their families. College tuition and fees have been rising more rapidly than household income over the past two decades. It is becoming more and more difficult for students and their families to afford these costs.
At a time when our global economy demands more from our workforce, we must focus more than ever on the foundation of our future prosperity: education.
As Minnesota's U.S. Senator, I have successfully fought to improve our public schools, give educators the resources they need, and make sure that all families have the opportunity to pursue higher education. I have worked to:
Ensure that American students and workers get the education and training they need to compete in the global economy. The future of our nation depends on a highly-skilled and competitive workforce. We must do a better job of encouraging and supporting our students to study math and science. In my first months as Senator, I voted to pass the America Competes Act, which was signed into law last year. This legislation increases support for math and science education as well as new technology initiatives. The Act expands Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs by increasing the number of teachers prepared to teach those courses, assisting states in the development of specialty schools in math and science, and establishing new summer training programs for teachers at the National Laboratories and at the National Science Foundation.
Make higher education more accessible and affordable. America's competitiveness in the global economy depends on the affordability of higher education, but college costs continue to soar -nearly tripling in the last 20 years. As an original sponsor of the Middle Class Opportunity Act, I am working to expand access to college by consolidating three major tax deductions and credits into a single $2,500 annual credit to help with tuition, fees and textbooks. I also voted for the College Cost Reduction Act and the Higher Education Reauthorization Act, both of which were signed into law in 2007. These laws will make college more affordable by raising the maximum Pell Grant to $5,400 by 2012, protecting borrowers by capping monthly loan payments at 15 percent of discretionary income, and cutting the interest rate on student Stafford Loans in half by 2011.
Support early childhood education opportunities. Every child should get a good start in life and enter kindergarten ready to learn. I voted in favor of the Head Start for School Readiness Act, which was signed into law in 2007, authorizing $22 billion to ensure that children are prepared when they enter school. When children get off to a good start, they do better in school, stay in school longer, and enjoy higher earnings as adults.
There is still much more we need to do to make sure that all our children have educational opportunities and that we have a 21st century workforce for the 21st century economy. My priorities include:
Giving our schools and teachers real support, not empty promises. I believe in setting high expectations for our students and our schools, but those expectations have to be matched by the resources to get the job done. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was intended to improve the performance of our schools by increasing accountability for states, school districts and schools. In exchange for their commitment to reform, states were promised funding necessary to fulfill these new requirements. Instead, this law has turned into another underfunded federal mandate. Our schools and teachers need real support, not empty promises. I will keep fighting to fulfill those promises to our schools.
Guaranteeing high standards and accountability in education in a way that reflects students' real talents and real progress. Schools need to be held to the highest criteria, and I support national testing standards, but measuring progress must also be realistic and fair. I am committed to finding ways to measure Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under federal law based on more than one single statewide test. I will fight to find ways for schools to display a comprehensive portfolio of student achievement, rather than assessing a student at a single point in time. I am also committed to examining ways we can provide a more comprehensive and valid assessment for students with disabilities and English Language Learners.
Making sure the federal government lives up to its promise to support education for those with disabilities. The federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004 (IDEA), imposes specific requirements to ensure that students with disabilities receive the services they need to achieve their educational goals. However, the commitment to fully fund IDEA has never been met. School districts are being forced to redirect more and more resources from their general education budgets to cover the shortfall. This practice hurts all students. I am fighting to make sure the federal government lives up to its promise to support education for those with disabilities.