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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions S409

Location: Washington, DC


By Mr. DEWINE (for himself and Mr. ROCKEFELLER):

S. 409. A bill to provide loan forgiveness to social workers who work for child protective agencies; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. DeWINE. Madam President, I join several of my colleagues today to introduce a series of bills related to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). These five bills emphasize a number of issues that are vital to higher education, including teacher quality; loan forgiveness for social workers, family lawyers, and early childhood teachers; and the reduction of drug use and underage drinking at our colleges and universities.

The quality of a student's education is the direct result of the quality of that student's teachers. If we don't have well trained teachers, then future generations of our children will not be well educated. That is why I am introducing a bill that would provide $200 million in grants to our schools of education to partner with local schools to ensure that our teachers are receiving the best, most extensive training available before they enter the classroom.

The Secretary of Education's annual report on teacher quality reported that a majority of graduates of schools of education believe that the traditional teacher preparation program left them ill prepared for the challenges and rigors of the classroom.
Part of the responsibility for this lies in the hands of our schools of education. However, Congress also has a responsibility to give our schools of education the tools they need to make necessary improvements. This new bill would create a competitive grant program for schools of education, which partner with low-income schools to create clinical programs to train teachers. Additionally, it would require schools of education to make internal changes by working with other departments at the university to ensure that teachers are receiving the highest quality education in core academic subjects. Finally, it would require the college or university to demonstrate a commitment to improving their schools of education by providing matching funds.

Another complex issue affecting the teaching force is the high percentage of disillusioned beginning teachers who leave the field. Our bill would help combat this issue, as well. Schools of education receiving these grants would be responsible for following their graduates and continuing to provide assistance after they enter the classroom. The more we invest in the education of teachers—especially once they have entered the profession—the more likely they will remain in the classroom.

Today, I also would like to introduce, along with Senator Dodd, the Early Care and Education Loan Forgiveness Act. Our dear friend and colleague, Senator Wellstone, and I had included this legislation in the last higher education reauthorization bill. We had been working on this legislation together before Paul's tragic death. I know he cared deeply about this issue and about making sure that all children receive a quality education. He was passionate about that. And, in his memory, I would like to rename our bill the Paul Wellstone Early Educator Loan Forgiveness Act.

This bill would expand the loan forgiveness program so that it benefits not just childcare workers, but also early childhood educators. This loan forgiveness program would serve as an incentive to keep those educators in the field for longer periods of time.

Paul Wellstone knew how important early learning programs are in preparing our children for kindergarten and beyond. Research shows that children who attend quality early childcare programs when they were three or four years old scored better on math, language arts, and social skills in early elementary school than children who attended poor quality childcare programs. In short, children in early learning programs with high quality teachers—teachers with a bachelor's degree or an associate's degree or higher—do substantially better.

When we examine the number and recent growth of pre-primary education programs, it becomes difficult to differentiate between early education and childcare settings because they are so often intertwined—especially considering that 11.9 million children younger than age five spend part of their time with a care provider other than a parent and that demand for quality childcare and education is growing as more mothers enter the workforce.

Because this bill targets loan forgiveness to those educators working in low-income schools or childcare settings, we can make significant strides toward providing high quality education for all of our young children, regardless of socioeconomic status. The bill would serve a twofold function. First, it would reward professionals for their training. Second, it would encourage professionals to remain in the profession over longer periods of time, since more time in the profession leads to higher percentages of loans forgiveness. The bill would result in more educated individuals with more teaching experience and lower turnover rates, each of which enhance student performance.

I encourage my colleagues to join me in this effort to ensure that truly no children—especially our youngest children—are left behind.

I also am working on two bills with my friend and colleague from West Virginia, Senator JAY ROCKEFELLER. These bills would provide loan forgiveness to students who dedicate their careers to working in the realm of child welfare, including social workers, who work for child protective services, and family law experts.

Currently, Mr. President, there aren't enough social workers to fill available jobs in child welfare today. Furthermore, the number of social work job openings is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2010. The need for highly qualified social workers in the child protective services is reaching crisis level.

We also need more qualified individuals focusing on family law. The wonderful thing about family law is its focus on rehabilitation—that is the rehabilitation of families by helping them through life's transitions, whether it is a family going through a divorce, a family dealing with their troubled teenager in the juvenile system, or a child getting adopted and becoming a member of a new family.

Across the United States, family, juvenile, and domestic relations courts are experiencing a shortage of qualified attorneys. As many of my colleagues and I know, law school is an expensive investment. In the last 20 years, tuition has increased more than 200 percent. Currently, the average rate of law school debt is about $80,000 per graduate. To be sure, few law school graduates can afford to work in the public sector because debts prevent even the most dedicated public service lawyer from being able to take these low-paying jobs. This results in a shortage of family lawyers.

The shortage of family law attorneys also disproportionately impacts juveniles. The lack of available representation causes children to spend more time in foster care because cases are adjourned or postponed when they simply cannot find an attorney to represent their rights or those of the parent or guardian. Furthermore, the number of children involved in the court system is sharply increasing. We need to ensure that the interests of these children are taken care of by making certain they have an advocate—someone working solely on their behalf. By offering loan forgiveness to those willing to pursue careers in the child welfare field, we can increase the number of highly qualified and dedicated individuals who work in the realm of child welfare and family law.

Finally, I am introducing a bill today with my friend and colleague from Connecticut, Senator Lieberman, that would help address an epidemic—the epidemic of underage drinking, binge drinking, and drug-related problems on college and university campuses across the United States. Our bill would provide grants to states to establish statewide partnerships among colleges and universities and the surrounding communities to work together to reduce underage and binge drinking and illicit drug use by students.

According to a study by Boston University, over 1,400 students aged 18-24 died in 1998 from alcohol-related injuries, more than 600,000 students were assaulted by another student, and another 500,000 were injured unintentionally while under the influence of alcohol. According to a 1999 Harvard University study, 40 percent of college students are binge drinkers and according to the Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 10.5 million current drinkers were under the legal age of 21, and of these, over 5 million were binge drinkers.

Currently, 28 States, including my home State of Ohio, have coalitions that deal specifically with the culture of alcohol and drug abuse on our nation's college campuses. They work with the surrounding communities, including local residents, bar, restaurant and shop owners, and law enforcement officials, toward a goal of changing the pervasive culture of drug and alcohol abuse. They provide alternative alcohol-free events, as well as support groups for those who choose not to drink. They also educate students about the dangers of alcohol and drug-use.

Furthermore, the coalitions recognize that while it is important to promote an alcohol aware and drug-free campus community, if the community surrounding the campus does not promote these initiatives, there will be no long-term solutions. Therefore, these coalitions also have worked to establish regulations both on and off campus, which will help our nation's youth to stay healthy, alive, and get the most out of their time at college. Some of these regulations include the registration of kegs. This provides accountability for both the store and the student. This is just an example of one step that colleges, local communities, and organizations can take.

To help start the expansion of these coalitions, our bill would provide $50 million in grants. This is an important demonstration project that would help lead to positive effects for our young people. It is up to us to change the culture, which has been perpetuated by years of complacency and a dismissal tone of—"that's just the way it is in college." We must protect the health and education of our young people by changing this culture of abuse—and that is exactly what this bill would do.

Next year when we consider the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, I encourage my colleagues to join in support of these initiatives.

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