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A Back to School Update: Educational Reforms at Every Level

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A Back to School Update: Educational Reforms at Every Level
By Tom Cole

September 26, 2005

Although fall represents some relief in the hot Oklahoma weather, it also means the beginning of a new school year, which is not always popular with young students. With school in full swing, I would like to update you on what Congress is doing to help children obtain a successful education. In the first half of this year, Congress has outlined a bold vision to strengthen America's education system and build upon reforms enacted in recent years. As Congress moves forward this year, we will continue to make progress on many education issues from early childhood programs to improving access to a higher education.

Recently the House passed the School Readiness Act (H.R. 2123) that will introduce greater competition into the federal Head Start early childhood program and use it to strengthen school readiness; increase the role of states and local communities in Head Start; and protect children and taxpayers against the abuse and mismanagement of federal Head Start funds. The bill will strengthen the academic components of Head Start to help ensure disadvantaged children are prepared to succeed in school.

On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into law. Less than four years later, the success of the law and its emphasis on accountability are unmistakable. In July, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term trends assessment revealed significant improvements in overall student achievement, with noteworthy gains among minority students. Congress is continuing to make funding increases to help implement NCLB. States and local school districts are expected to receive $24.4 billion in federal funds in FY 2005 to help implement the No Child Left Behind Act, accounting for a forty percent increase in federal elementary and secondary education funding since President Bush signed NCLB into law. While much needs to be done moving forward, we should recognize how much has been accomplished in recent years.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) asks states to have a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by the end of the 2005-2006 school year. The federal government has dramatically increased teacher quality programs to help states pay for this effort. The 109th Congress will continue support teachers through initiatives such as stronger teacher education programs under the Higher Education Act, and continued support for student loan relief for teachers.

Congress is also moving forward with a comprehensive overhaul of the Higher Education Act that will reform and strengthen federal student aid and higher education programs, adding new options and benefits for student loan borrowers, greater accountability to empower consumers, and stronger protections for American taxpayers. The College Access & Opportunity Act (H.R. 609) will refocus the law back to its original mission by expanding college access for low- and middle-income students. H.R. 609 was approved by the Education & the Workforce Committee on July 22, 2005, and is ready for consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Continuing efforts to strengthen the nation's educational system and promote student achievement, the House passed The Vocational and Technical Education for the Future Act (H.R. 366) on May 4, 2005. This legislation is awaiting a conference between the House and Senate. The bill will help states and local communities improve opportunities for students without expanding the federal role in the nation's high schools.

By initiating reforms at every level, I believe we are making true progress on improving our nation's education system. Education is an investment in the future of our country and I will continue to make sure we are giving schools, teachers, students and parents every resource to ensure a successful education and a successful next generation.

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