It is important to reduce class size, ensure every student can attend college, and make sure that we have the best trained, most qualified teachers in the world.
While in Congress, I have supported efforts to improve access to a college education. Because a college degree is as important as a high school diploma was a generation ago, we must make college more affordable for families. The largest source of federal grant aid for postsecondary education students comes from Pell Grants. The maximum Pell Grant awards have been maintained at $5,550, and are essential to opening doors and giving students the financial means to attend college.
I am also proud to support legislation that invests in our children's education. I am a strong supporter of H.R. 2948, Fix America's Schools Today (FAST) Act of 2011, which would help put Americans back to work and also renovate schools. Additionally, this legislation would make a $5 billion investment to modernize community colleges through infrastructure or renovation projects. We can no longer continue to defer maintenance of our schools. Instead, we should take this opportunity to create jobs and a better environment for our students. I am also a strong supporter of H.R. 85, the Teacher Education Assistance Creating Hope (TEACH) for Our Future Act. This legislation offers all public elementary and secondary school teachers the opportunity to receive $25,000 in student loan forgiveness when they complete five full-time school years. Entering the teaching profession should be encouraged, particularly when student enrollments and teacher retirements are increasing.
Early education is fundamental to a child's educational foundation. As a former teacher, I understand the importance of investing in our children early in order to provide them with the best advantage in the future. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the main source of federal aid to K-12 education. Initially enacted in 1965, this law was amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) to achieve accountability of school systems for improving student achievement outcomes. However, measures such as requiring schools to make complex annual adequate yearly progress have become burdensome and punitive. Therefore, in September 2011, President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, announced a voluntary waiver plan for states to close achievement gaps and improve education outcomes for students. In exchange for a waiver, states had to agree to adopt common-sense reforms that include college and career ready standards, new accountability, school improvement systems and meaningful teacher and school leader evaluations. The states who applied during the first round included New Jersey. As Congress looks for ways to reform the ESEA, I will continue to work to ensure the needs of our nation's children are put first.
I will continue to fight for the highest quality education for every student at every level. I will make sure every student is ready for the future job market by working to improve No Child Left Behind, reform student loans, and encourage students at all levels to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to make sure that the U.S. remains competitive in the 21st Century and beyond.