Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a member of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, supported three amendments during the markup of the Strengthening America's Schools Act of 2013, a bill she has co-sponsored to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and reform No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The committee has been considering the bill this week.
Baldwin sponsored an amendment that would further strengthen career and technical education by more seamlessly aligning reporting on career and technical education and postsecondary preparation programs. She also offered an amendment that includes agricultural education programs in a grant program in order to ensure continued investments in innovative agricultural education programs. In addition, Senator Baldwin co-sponsored an amendment that recognizes the unique challenges rural school face, including small enrollments, federal and state education funding inequities, geographic isolation, challenges in recruiting and retaining effective teachers and leaders, and limited access to advanced courses.
Career and Technical Education
The Strengthening America's Schools Act emphasizes the importance of preparing students for careers as well as postsecondary education, and ensures academic standards support career preparation. Baldwin's Career and Technical Education (CTE) Amendment would further strengthen career and technical education by more seamlessly aligning CTE and postsecondary preparation programs--providing students and parents with a snapshot of what CTE programs are available at their local schools just as is done with Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam opportunities. To achieve this, the Baldwin amendment requires high schools to include multiple measures of career readiness in their reporting to better gauge student career preparedness and opportunities for future success.
"I'm proud that this legislation recognizes the importance of not only being college ready but also career ready," said Baldwin. "Wisconsin is full of examples of incredibly successful career and technical education training programs. Our secondary schools have developed unique collaborations and partnerships with technical colleges and businesses throughout the state to provide our students with hands-on learning and career preparation. Whether they are headed for college or career, students must be ready to perform and this bill will help make that possible."
The Strengthening American Schools Act authorizes a program that would award grants to states to build teacher capacity and allow access for low-income students to a well-rounded education, including in the arts, physical education, financial literacy, health education, foreign languages, civics, history, music, and environmental literacy. The program also requires states to identify and target gaps in low-income students' access to this education. The Baldwin amendment simply identifies "agricultural education programs" as part of the list of covered subjects to ensure innovative agricultural education programs across the country are included in the grant program.
"Wisconsin has a rich agriculture tradition that has been carried on from generation to generation," Baldwin said, "I believe it is important that we support and invest in innovative agricultural education programs so we can continue to carry on that tradition."
Families who live and work in rural America often do not have the same educational services as Americans living in more populated areas. The Baldwin co-sponsored amendment establishes an office of rural education policy inside the current office of elementary and secondary education at the Department of Education. The office would establish and maintain a clearinghouse for issues faced by rural schools and produce an annual report on the condition of rural education, in addition to providing additional resources and advocacy to rural schools.
"Strong rural schools greatly impact the quality of life in rural Wisconsin and help build strong, successful rural communities," said Baldwin. "Forty percent of Wisconsin's public schools are in rural communities. Investing in these schools by providing them access to the same services available to schools in more urban areas will ensure all of Wisconsin's students have a fair shot at a quality education."
The Strengthening America's Schools Act of 2013 seeks to ensure that all of America's children graduate college- and career-ready. No Child Left Behind provided important information on student performance and accountability for federal dollars, but it also unintentionally led to lower standards, a narrowing of curriculum and a "one-size-fits-all" approach to school improvement. The Strengthening America's Schools Act would replace NCLB with a law that is fair to students and teachers, and provides states and districts with the certainty, support, and freedom they need to prepare all children for success in the 21st century. The Strengthening America's Schools Act provides a framework to get all children to graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills needed for success in college and a career. It does this by: Supporting teachers and principals to help provide high-quality instruction; Ensuring disadvantaged students get the supports they need to succeed; and Focusing federal attention on supporting states and districts in turning around low-performing schools and closing achievement gaps.