Education is the foundation of opportunity. A strong education system provides Americans from across the country the knowledge and training they need to be successful leaders and innovators of tomorrow. Education is primarily a state and local responsibility in the United States. Of billions being spent nationwide on education at all levels, about 90 percent comes from state, local, and private sources. However, federal legislation significantly alters the landscape of elementary, secondary, and higher education. I am committed to ensuring that accomplishments on a federal level build a stronger education system with quality curriculum that equips students to meet the domestic and global demands of the 21st century.
ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION
FUNDING AND REINFORCING NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
As a longtime supporter of public schools, I believe that the programs under President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act need adequate federal funding to be effective. While NCLB provides funds for developing methods to recruit and retain more highly qualified teachers and combat overcrowding, it is imperative that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) not become an unfunded federal mandate. To ensure that our children are afforded the best public education we can possibly provide, I cosponsored H.R. 363, the Keep Our Promise to America's Children and Teachers Act. H.R. 363 will fully fund the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (ESEA-NCLBA), and for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Providing requisite funding to implement NCLB is an imperative, still we must reexamine the efficacy of program components as well. H.R. 224, the Comprehensive Learning Assessment for Students and Schools (CLASS) Act will revise changes to student assessments and adequate yearly progress made by NCLB to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
GEORGIA TESTING SCORES
I am aware of recent studies that show certain high schools tend to score higher on graduation tests than other schools in Georgia. Public school systems are required to follow the state course curriculum, although they are free to incorporate extra activities and projects that will stimulate critical thinking and in-depth learning on the part of their students. The state must ensure that all of our students receive a quality education so that they are prepared to enter the workforce and our communities as educated and productive citizens.
Regarding Georgia’s national SAT score ranking, while performing well on standardized tests is important, I believe that testing scores alone are an inadequate comparison between different states since some states limit the availability of the test to only the best students. Georgia allows a higher percentage of students to take the SAT than other states. The state must ensure that all of our students receive a quality education so that they are prepared to enter the workforce and our communities as educated and productive citizens. I believe that a balanced education for our kids teaches students core learning principles that enable them to successfully conquer college entrance exams.
RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The Equal Access Act of 1984 states that it shall be unlawful for any public secondary schools that receives federal funds “to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any student who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.” The Supreme Court upheld this statute and decisions in 1993 and 2001 widened student access to after-hour religious activities.
In 1995, in a memorandum to the Secretary of Education and the Attorney General, President Bill Clinton set forth the principles for religious expression in public schools. Students have the right to engage in individual or group prayer and religious discussions during the school day. They may read their Bibles or other scripture, say grace before meals, and pray and discuss their religious views in informal settings, such as cafeterias and hallways. They may participate in events, before and after school, with religious content. Because of these congressional and judicial actions, students now have much greater opportunity to pray and study religion in public schools.
In 2003, I introduced H.R. 1202, the Moment of Quiet Reflection in Schools Act, to provide for a period of quiet reflection at the opening of every school day. As a state senator in the Georgia Legislature, I introduced and passed a similar bill in 1994. The Georgia law, signed by then Governor Zell Miller, has been upheld by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as constitutional. H.R. 1202 would require public schools to hold a brief period of quiet reflection for not more than 60 seconds in every classroom. The legislation specifically states that the moment of silent reflection shall not be conducted as a religious service or exercise.
This moment of reflection will give our students the opportunity to have a calming break from an otherwise busy and stressful school day. I will continue to work in Congress to ensure that the Moment of Quiet Reflection in Schools Act and other beneficial education laws are passed and enacted nationally.
FINANCING HIGHER EDUCATION
There is a direct correlation between a higher education, higher pay, and a better quality of life. I have fought to increase federal funding for loans and grants that ensure access to a college education for students of every socio-economic background. I backed H.R. 1277 to simplify the federal student aid application process. I co-sponsored H.R. 1029 to allow students to refinance their federal student consolidation loans and I support legislation to increase the maximum amount of interest on education loans that students can deduct from their taxes through H.R.1033. In addition, I fought for increasing the Pell grant award to $6,000 for 5 years by adding my support to H.R. 133.
We also need to examine the impact of rising costs for graduate and professional programs. Increasingly, students are left with burdensome sums of borrowed funds that restrict their professional choices after graduation. To relieve the burden of loans and ensure that public service remains a feasible option, I introduced H.R. 198 to establish a loan forgiveness program for attorneys.
ACCOMODATING MILITARY PESONNEL NEEDS
Men and women who serve in the armed forces are provided with federal funds to avail themselves of a college education. However, military service often means that families must relocate from base to base. Recognizing the unique position that this creates for families who need and desire the advantage of in state tuition, I authored legislation (H.R. 197) that allows military personnel and their families the opportunity to take advantage of in state tuition after 30 days. To further address the unique education requirements of military personnel, I penned a second bill, H.R. 199, to grant military leave for enrolled students during their service and one year after it. Under my bill, students would also have any financial aid reinstated upon their return following military service.
STRENGTHENING AMERICA’S SCHOOL SYSTEMS & CURRICULUM
ENVISIONING CURRICULUM FOR THE 21st CENTURY
To maintain our technological and business competitiveness America’s education systems must produce great thinkers and leaders. I co-sponsored H.R. 5878 to provide for entrepreneurial curriculum at HBCUs, Hispanic serving institutions, and Tribal colleges and universities. We must also embrace the imperative to increase the number of U.S. students learning foreign languages. For this reason, I cosponsored H.R.115 to expand foreign language education in our schools. Curriculum must also be reinvigorated to invest students in math and science.
TEACH FOR AMERICA
I strongly support the Teach for America program to put effective teachers in place to motivate our neediest students. Teach for America is similar to Americorps where Corps members commit two years to teach in urban and rural schools in some of our nation's lowest income areas. I urged the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over Education funding to support a $7 million allocation for Teach for America, Inc. I also cosponsored H.R. 3334 which will provide Teach For America, Inc. with a grant from the Secretary of Education to expand their programs.
To learn more about Teach for America visit www.teachforamerica.org. For more information about Teach for America's impact in the metropolitan Atlanta region, download the Teach for America - Atlanta information sheet.
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