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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



S. 3995. A bill to provide education opportunity grants to low-income secondary school students; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I rise to speak about legislation that I am introducing today along with the Senator from Illinois, Mr. Obama. At this time of year, with much bitter partisanship, I really am pleased to work with Senator Obama for something that we think is important to the country.

The Education Opportunity Act is a bill that would significantly expand college-level opportunities for low-income high school students and teach these students that success in school can mean success in life.

In the fast-paced, technologically advanced global economy of the 21st century, old distinctions between high school and college are becoming obsolete. For our students to succeed in tomorrow's workplace, we must be innovative and allow more choices of study today.

As we look toward reauthorizing No Child Left Behind, I believe it is important to examine what has worked and where students are still falling between the cracks. While we have expanded advanced placement classes, what we call AP classes, through the President's Advanced Placement Incentives Program, I believe we are missing another vital avenue to increase college-level opportunities for low-income students. That is why I am proud to work together with Senator Obama to establish education opportunity grants for high school students.

Our bill is similar to the Federal Pell grant program, which funds need-based aid that does not have to be repaid by the students. These grants could be made available for classes at community colleges or universities that would admit a high school student to enroll in classes. These grant scholarships will help keep our high school students in school by raising their expectations and showing them that they can do college-level work. They could also accumulate college-level credits while still in high school.

Our national dropout rate is at record highs, and it is on the rise. In my own home State of South Carolina, high school students are dropping out at an alarming rate, with half of all students failing to complete high school in 4 years. It is no secret that most of these at-risk students are from low-income families.

Currently, there are only two ways high school students can gain college credit. They either take the AP classes at high school or participate in dual enrollment programs. Some high schools, particularly those with a high percentage of low-income students, are not able to offer advanced placement classes, and students are required to forgo college classes that they might want to take because their families can't afford to foot the bill. The result is that students with great promise who happen to come from disadvantaged families lose interest in a school that does not offer classes tailored to their talents and interests.

Senator Obama and I believe if we expose students to the hundreds of classes available at their local colleges, some of which are listed on the chart behind me, many students who are not excited about high school world history classes will, instead, discover that they are interested in computer science or marketing and can learn a skill that they can see will directly apply to a future job.

Make no mistake, traditional classes in biology, English, and history are important. But if a student drops out because they don't have the flexibility to also pursue more nontraditional avenues, those classes do not do them any good.

Education opportunity grants are a cost-effective way to educate students by utilizing the preexisting infrastructure already available at local colleges. I believe this will show many students that a college degree is attainable and that they will be better prepared to start college or enter the workforce with marketable skills as a high school graduate.

As I mentioned before, I believe it is critical that we do a better job accommodating the needs of all our students and continue to create opportunities for each young person to learn in ways that make sense to them and have direct application to their goals in life.

This legislation is one more valuable option for our educational system to empower students and parents with choices and the ability to follow an educational path that meets their individual needs.

It is time we stopped forcing our kids to fit our educational system and, instead, force our educational system to fit our kids. That is the only way that success in school will mean success in life.

I thank Senator Obama and his great staff for working with my office on this important legislation, and I look forward to working with the Senator from Wyoming, Mr. Enzi, and the Senator from Massachusetts, Ranking Member Kennedy, to make this legislation a reality.


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