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Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012 Motion to Proceed--continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington DC

Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, as Congress prepares to adjourn for the August State work period, nearly 50 million students are preparing to head back to approximately 100,000 elementary and secondary public schools across the country. What a great responsibility it is for us in Congress and our partners at the State and local levels to engage with parents and teachers to ensure that these 50 million students are well educated. When I travel back to Louisiana this month, I will be visiting students and schools throughout the State, from Lafayette to New Orleans to Bogalusa. I am looking forward to watching stimulating lessons, meeting enthusiastic students and teachers, and learning more about the successes and challenges of Louisiana's schools.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that $544.3 billion will be spent in public education this upcoming school year. That is an estimated $11,000 per student. Are we making the most of those dollars? In Congress, we perennially debate the amount of Federal funds we should invest in our public school students. We recognize that many of our States' education systems are underpreparing young people for the changing workforce and increasing global competition. Yet we cannot agree on the appropriate amounts to invest at the Federal level to ensure that all students receive the opportunity for an excellent education. All too often, the debate has been about ``How much?'' rather than about ``How to get better results?'' with existing resources.

Over the last several years, Federal, State, and local governments have taken helpful steps to change the way taxpayer dollars are invested to ensure that our limited resources are driven toward high-impact solutions in education. Mayors and governors across the country are increasingly using data and evidence to steer public dollars to more effectively address the educational needs of their communities and States. At the Federal level, innovation funds have been created to invest in and scale proven solutions. Some of these Federal programs, such as the Social Innovation Fund, Investing in Innovation, and the High-Quality Charter Schools Replication and Expansion Program, provide competitive grants to nonprofit organizations in order to grow promising, evidence-based solutions.

The Social Innovation Fund in particular focuses on three priority areas: economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development. Its unique Federal funding model requires all grantees and subgrantees to match Federal resources 1:1, thereby increasing the return on taxpayer dollars and strengthening local support. This program relies on outstanding existing grant-making ``intermediaries'' to select high-impact community organizations rather than building new government infrastructures. Additionally, it emphasizes rigorous evaluations of program results.

In my home State of Louisiana, the Social Innovation Fund recently provided the Capital Area United Way with $2 million to replicate and expand effective early childhood development programs to increase school readiness among children in low-income and rural parishes within the Greater Baton Rouge area. We know that education does not begin in kindergarten, education begins in a child's earliest years of life. New Profit, Inc., received a Social Innovation Fund grant of $15 million over 3 years to collaborate with innovative youth-focused, nonprofit organizations in helping young people navigate the increasingly complex path from high school to college and productive employment. The project will expand the reach of these nonprofits to improve the lives of nearly 8,000 young people in low-income communities throughout the country.

Another program investing in what works is the Investing in Innovation Fund, commonly known as the i3 Program. This program provides competitive grants to local school districts and nonprofit organizations with records of success to help them leverage public-private partnerships to implement education practices that have demonstrated positive impacts on student achievement. Since 2010, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded competitive i3 grants to 72 local school districts and nonprofit organizations in 26 States and Washington, DC.

I am proud that New Schools for New Orleans, in partnership with the Louisiana Recovery School District and Tennessee Achievement School District, received $28 million in i3 funds in 2010 to significantly increase the number of high-quality charter schools in New Orleans and ultimately improve education outcomes for New Orleans' students. With these funds, New Schools for New Orleans is replicating Sci Academy, a high-performing charter high school that New Schools for New Orleans incubated four years ago. Sci Academy just graduated its first class of seniors--with 96 percent matriculating to 7-year colleges. Two new high schools modeled after Sci Academy will open this fall. With the i3 grant, New Schools for New Orleans is also funding the turnaround of a K-8 school, Craig Elementary School in the Treme neighborhood. Dr. Doris Hicks, who runs the very successful Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School in the Lower Ninth Ward, will be overseeing the turnaround of Craig Elementary School, lending her expertise and community credibility to the effort.

The High-Quality Charter Schools Replication and Expansion Program provides competitive grants to successful nonprofit charter management organizations to allow them to increase enrollment at existing charter schools or open one or more new charter schools based on their successful model. Both Rocketship Education out of California and KIPP, Knowledge is Power Program, out of Houston, TX, have received critical funds from this competition in order to expand their reach and serve more students. Both of these well-known and highly popular charter management organizations are opening and operating charter schools in Louisiana and other States across the United States.

On May 18, 2012, the Office of Management and Budget issued a ``Memorandum to Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies'' asking them to demonstrate the use of evidence throughout their fiscal year 2014 budget submissions. This is exactly the right kind of directive--one which taxpayers will be happy to hear. In particular, I am enthusiastic about the potential impact of the provisions in the memo that urge agencies to propose new types of evaluations and consider how evidence can be used in both formula and competitive grant-making programs.

For the Federal Government to make this shift toward requiring more evidence of impact and prioritizing the investment of taxpayer dollars in proven programs, I recognize that there are a number of challenges to address, including a lack of agreement about what constitutes ``evidence'' of impact; the difficulty of measuring certain kinds of interventions or their desired outcomes; the resources it takes to conduct the most rigorous evaluations; a concern that those communities most in need will be unable to compete and, therefore, fall further behind; and a concern that many well-intentioned organizations will lose public funding because they do not currently have the evidence necessary to prove their impact. These are very valid concerns, and I encourage the Office of Management and Budget and all Federal departments and agencies to address them through a thoughtful design of policy approaches.

I strongly encourage my colleagues in the Senate to visit a variety of public schools in their home States this month. Talk with students, parents, teachers, and school leaders. Learn more about their successes and challenges, and consider this question: What is truly working in education and how can the Federal Government be more strategic about investing in evidence-based solutions in our classrooms?

We need to be smarter about how we invest in education if we are going to close the achievement gap, prepare students for the 21st century workforce, and compete in the global arena. Joel Klein, Condoleezza Rice, and a Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored task force recently produced a report called ``U.S. Education Reform and National Security.'' According to the report, ``Educational failure puts the United States' future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk. Leaving large swaths of the population unprepared also threatens to divide Americans and undermine the country's cohesion, confidence, and ability to serve as a global leader. ..... The United States will not be able to keep pace--much less lead--globally unless it moves to fix the problems it has allowed to fester for too long.''

I yield the floor.

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