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School Starts and Congress Funds Education for Coming Fiscal Year

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School Starts and Congress Funds Education for Coming Fiscal Year

As summer vacations have officially come to an end and America's youth have started another school year, the House just passed the fiscal year 2005 Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill. I am pleased to have cast my vote in favor of the bill. I am particularly excited about Congress' renewed commitment to education and thus, America's future.

Over the past several years, Congress has implemented education reforms to ensure that every child has access to a quality education. Most notably is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. As part of NCLB, education has received significantly more funding but holds schools accountable for results.

To ensure all children have access to a quality education, the House increased spending for the Department of Education by $2 billion, bringing total funding to a total of $57.7 billion next year. The increases this year are in addition to the $16.8 billion in unspent funds currently available to individual states.

A number of programs are generously funded as part of the overall bill. The bill includes $11.1 billion in funding for special education, the highest level in history, and $1 billion more than last year. This program ensures that children with special needs have the tools and resources they need to be successful.

Title I is funded at $13.4 billion, also $1 billion more than last year. Title I provides aid to states and school districts to help educationally disadvantaged children achieve the same high academic performance standards as all other students.
The plan fully funds the Reading First program. One of the hallmarks of No Child Left Behind is that all children should be able to read. This program will enable states to improve the reading scores through scientific, research-based reading programs.

No Child Left Behind also aims to improve teacher quality. Therefore, the bill provides states and school districts with nearly $3 billion for professional development programs of their choosing as tools to improve teacher quality. This includes the "Transition to Teaching," program which assists eligible members of the armed forces and mid-career professionals in obtaining teaching certifications, thus increasing the number of teaching professionals.

No Child Left Behind provides record funding for education in exchange for increased accountability. The accountability will be measured through required testing of students' reading, mathematics and eventually science skills, every year in grades three through eight. The federal government helps assume the cost for testing by including $410 million in fiscal year 2005, $20 million more than the current year, to cover the cost of developing annual state assessments of students' reading and math skills. In keeping with the theme of NCLB flexibility, states retain the responsibility for selecting and designing their own assessments.

Pell Grant programs are increased by $823 million over last year and awards are maintained at $4050 per student, per year. After School Centers are funded at a level of $1 billion in the coming year.

The bill includes $220 million for start-up and planning grants for charter schools and $50 million to increase charter schools' access to capital markets. The TRIO and GEAR UP programs have been increased by $10 million to almost $1.2 billion. Both are programs designed to help students prepare for, and succeed, in college.

Funding for Project Head Start is increased by $123 million over last year, bringing fiscal year 2005 funding to $6.9 billion. This funding level will allow Head Start to maintain current service levels while ensuring that quality improvements and training elements are fully implemented.

As children return to school, Congress has just voted to fund the Department of Education at record levels. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states and school districts have unprecedented flexibility to use federal education funds as they see fit. In exchange for increased flexibility and record funding, there are strong measures of accountability for results. School systems must show that their methods are working and students are learning. The reforms and funding are designed to ensure that all students have access to a quality education.

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