During the re-authorization of Head Start in the 109th Congress, Congressman Kucinich worked hard to strengthen and expand the program for America’s neediest children. Congressman Kucinich supported an amendment to fund Head Start fully, enabling thousands more children to take advantage of the program. Like many education programs, funding shortfalls have hindered Head Start’s ability to serve all eligible children. In Head Start, only three of every five children who qualify for the program under strict income guidelines are allowed to participate. Unfortunately, this amendment was defeated by the Majority party.
During the Committee on Education and the Workforce markup of the re-authorization, Congressman Kucinich offered an amendment to change the way the poverty line is calculated for Head Start. The Congressman’s amendment would have tied the calculation of the poverty line to the growth in wages, rather than the growth in prices. Currently the poverty thresholds are calculated as they were designed in the early 1960s: one-third of a family’s income is assumed to be spent on food with adjustments made for changes in prices. By tying the poverty line to growth in wages rather than growth in prices, the poverty line for a family of three, which is currently $16,090, would be increased, making more low-income children eligible for Head Start services.
When the bill passed unanimously by the Committee on Education and the Workforce was brought to the floor of the House of Representatives, Congressman Kucinich fought to defeat a discriminatory amendment offered by Rep. Boehner. The amendment would insert provisions to allow religious organizations that receive federal funds to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of their religion. Congressman Kucinich is strongly opposed to such provisions and spoke out on the House floor against the amendment. When the amendment passed, by a vote of 231-184, Congressman Kucinich was forced to vote against the final passage the reauthorization of Head Start.
During re-authorization in the 108th Congress, Congressman Kucinich also attempted to expand eligibility for Head Start in America. Currently, a family of four with a combined gross income of $20,000 per year is considered “too rich” for inclusion in Head Start. At a minimum, Congressman Kucinich believes the program must be fully funded so that all families below the poverty line can be served by Head Start. He offered an amendment to enlarge the program to provide full-day, comprehensive care and education for millions of working families who, though struggling to make ends meet, are not necessarily considered “poor” by official definition. Coupled with on-going efforts to enact his initiative for free and universal prekindergarten for all American children, this renewed vision for Head Start would have resulted in an unprecedented investment in America’s modest income families. It would have also reordered the spending priorities of our nation, placing low-income children at the head of the line for support, care, and education.
Congressman Kucinich also spoke and voted in favor of both encouraging Head Start access for the children of migrant workers and increasing funds for Head Start teacher education and training. He believes teachers play an integral role in our nation’s efforts to combat poverty and improve communities. He supports any opportunity on the federal level to increase their pay, resources, or training.
Congressman Kucinich supported these and other provisions to improve Head Start in the face of an effort to block-grant the program to eight states with unproven and untested preschool programs. This proposal would have allowed states to deplete critical Head Start funds by funneling Head Start resources to other initiatives. Congressman Kucinich opposed this provision as an unproven and unnecessary experiment likely to endanger America’s low-income children. Congressman Kucinich will continue to be a strong advocate for Head Start, the nation’s preeminent program to educate, care, and support the nation’s poorest children and families.
The No Child Left Behind Act and IDEA
Congressman Kucinich has established a strong record of pushing for the full funding of all education initiatives passed by the federal government. Congressman Kucinich has been especially critical of funding shortfalls in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). As of 2008, NCLB has been underfunded by 46%-- a staggering $55 billion. When federal education programs are underfunded, states and school districts have to make up this shortfall while living up to the new mandates contained in the bill.
In past Congresses, Congressman Kucinich twice voted in the Committee on Education and the Workforce to fully fund NCLB and has been a co-sponsor of the “Keep Our Pact Act”, a bill to mandate that NCLB be fully funded each year.
Congressman Kucinich also believes strongly that a healthy, robust and fully funded public education system is vital to the nation’s economic health and national security. If the United States wishes to continue to lead the world in the 21st Century, it is necessary for our educational system to prepare children to think and equip them with the tools they need to compete and thrive.
Congressman Kucinich voted for the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) on November 19, 2004. The Congressman is committed to ensuring that all disabled children in America have access to a free, appropriate, and fully funded public school education, as required under IDEA. As a result, he has been highly critical of the federal government’s unwillingness to live up to its 28-year-old pledge to cover the full forty percent of the cost associated with educating disabled children at the local school level. Currently the government provides only 19 percent of this cost, which forces states to dip into their general education budgets to make up for the federal shortfall. This means that administrators must put off buying new or more textbooks, delay class size reduction efforts, postpone needed school building repairs, or table efforts to add extra programs or programs that might help students become more successful in school. Congressman Kucinich believes this situation is unacceptable.
When IDEA was re-authorized in the Committee on Education and the Workforce, Congressman Kucinich voted both in the Subcommittee and Full Committee mark-up for amendments that would have required the full and mandatory funding of IDEA for the first time in the program’s history. Though the amendments failed, Congressman Kucinich is committed to pushing this issue of critical importance to local school districts.
Congressman Kucinich also raised concerns during the IDEA reauthorization that although it is important that school administrators have the power to keep classrooms safe by removing dangerous or unruly students, the reauthorization bill stated that any disabled child may be removed from a classroom for violating any “code of student conduct,” even if the action in violation was a direct result of the child’s disability. Congressman Kucinich voted for an amendment that would have removed this overly broad and unfair provision of the bill, and was pleased to see the provision removed from the final version of the legislation.
Congressman Kucinich also disagreed with provisions of the bill that limited parents’ due process rights in hearings with the school district and allowed school districts to eliminate short term objectives in Individualized Education Plans (IEP), allowing such plans to be revisited once every three years, instead of the mandatory one year in current law.Expanding Prekindergarten Programs
Congressman Kucinich believes that all children should have access to quality early education. Studies have shown that children who attended a high-quality prekindergarten program have higher academic achievement, lower rates of grade retention, are less likely to be placed in special education, and graduate from high school at higher rates than students who did not.
Currently there is a drastic shortage of affordable, quality early education programs that are accessible to working families. Quality prekindergarten programs can easily cost more than college tuition at a public university. By providing access to universal prekindergarten we are helping to ensure that all children, regardless of their family's income, receive the benefits of early education.
On November 1, 2007, Congressman Kucinich reintroduced legislation to ensure all children ages 3-5 years-old will have access to quality early education programs. The Universal Prekindergarten Act, HR 4060, would ensure that all children ages 3-5 have access to high-quality, full-day, full-calendar year prekindergarten education. It would provide students with early educational opportunities to help lay the foundation for future academic success. Funded by both state and federal money, the services will be free-of-charge and completely voluntary for families who choose to participate. The bill will supplement existing federal and state prekindergarten programs, will provide for professional development of early childhood educators, and will increase salary levels in order to recruit and retain qualified staff..
Congressman Kucinich, a member of the Committee on Education and Labor and the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, introduced the bill with 37 original cosponsors. He has sponsored universal prekindergarten legislation for over five years.
A less comprehensive prekindergarten bill, the Providing Resources Early for Kids (PRE-K) Act, was marked up by the Committee on Education in June 2008. Congressman Kucinich won three amendments to that legislation which would pave the way for expansion of prekindergarten services. The first two amendments improved the bill’s definition of a “high-quality” prekindergarten program, while the third amendment created a more robust reporting requirement that would improve effectiveness and oversight.
Financial Aid for Higher Education
In November 2007, the Committee on Education and Labor, of which Congressman Kucinich is a member, took up the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, which would reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Congressman Kucinich worked to include two key provisions in the Act. On August 14, 2008, President Bush signed the College Opportunity and Affordability Act into law.
Congressman Kucinich advocated for the inclusion of language from H.R. 3637, the Higher Education Sustainability Act, which would provide $50 million for colleges and universities to train future sustainability professionals. The money would be competitively awarded and would develop, implement and evaluate sustainability programs in higher education. The language was included in the final bill that was passed by the Committee and eventually signed into law.
Also included in the College Opportunity and Affordability Act was the language from Congressman Kucinich’s own bill, H.R. 2707, to reauthorize the Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural Program. This important legislation will re-authorize a competitive grant program administered by the Department of Education to research, display, interpret and collect artifacts relating to the history of the Underground Railroad.
During one of the darkest eras in our history, a group of courageous Americans, both Black and White as well as free and enslaved, bound together to form what would be known as the Underground Railroad. This racially integrated movement to bring about social change has familiar heroes such as Harriet Tubman, William Still, John Rankin and Susan B. Anthony, but there are thousands more who risked their lives to help others escape the clutches of slavery as they fled to the North.
The Underground Railroad Educational and Culture Program Act would provide competitive grants to non-profit organizations around the United States to shed light on one of the most important and courageous social movements in our history while preserving and interpreting artifacts found from this critical era. Moreover, this legislation would ensure the existence of a strong public-private partnership to supplement and leverage federal resources along with funds collected at the state and local level.
The bill also passed the House unanimously as a stand alone bill on July 30, 2007.
In the 109th Congress, Congressman Kucinich opposed the drastic cuts to student aid programs included in the Budget Reconciliation agreement during the Committee on Education and the Workforce markup and on the House floor.
The amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965 included in these cuts made a number of substantive changes to student aid programs. The bill raised the interest rate cap on student and parent loans. In 2002, Congress passed bipartisan legislation to lower the interest rate caps on student loans beginning in 2006. Student loans were to be capped at 6.8% and parent loans capped at 7.9%. The lowering of these interest rate caps is repealed in the current bill, leaving students with loans capped at 8.25% and parent loans at 9%. While this change may seem insignificant at a time when we have seen some of the lowest interest rates for students in years, as interest rates continue to rise the typical student borrower could be forced to pay as much as $2,600 more on his or her loans.
While the bill also cut excessive lender subsidies, it did so without ensuring the cost will not be passed onto students. This oversight could have meant unknown additional costs for borrowers. Additionally, the bill eliminated $2.2 billion in administrative funds. These funds are needed to disburse student aid, process financial aid applications and oversee schools and lenders. Congressman Kucinich will continue to oppose these and other changes to student aid programs that will not help make college affordable for all students.
Congressman Kucinich strongly believes all students, regardless of economic background, deserve an opportunity to attain a higher education. For example, Congressman Kucinich has sponsored “Continuing Education After High School” workshops for prospective students and their families in his Congressional district. These workshops have given constituents access to financial aid experts, who served as panelists in a discussion on financial aid options, including loans, grants, scholarships and pre-paid tuition. In addition, the Congressman has sent a newsletter to the young adults in his district on topics of particular concern to their age group, including information on student aid available through the Department of Education. It is Congressman Kucinich’s goal that the option to attend college or a career school is attainable for all students and adults. He will continue to work towards that goal through his membership on the Education and the Workforce Committee.
Louis Agassiz Elementary School
In late May of 2007, Congressman Kucinich learned that the Cleveland Municipal School District intended to convert the Louis Agassiz Elementary School from a neighborhood school to a single-sex magnet school. Neighborhood residents and Ward 19 Councilwoman Dona Brady asked for Congressman Kucinich’s help in saving Agassiz as a neighborhood school.
While no opposed to having single-sex academies as one method of improving the education for many Cleveland schoolchildren, Congressman Kucinich objected to changing Agassiz to such a school because of its rank as one of the top ten schools in the District. Congressman Kucinich contacted Cleveland Schools CEO Eugene Sanders by letter and personal phone call as both a Ward 19 resident and a member of the Education and Labor Committee in Congress to voice his opposition to changing Agassiz from neighborhood to magnet school. After Kucinich’s intervention, Louis Agassiz remains both a neighborhood school and one of the highest ranking schools in the District.
Cuyahoga County Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program
Congressman Kucinich received more than $600,000 in the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education FY08 Appropriations Bill for two different organizations in his district.
The Cuyahoga County Office of Early Childhood received more than $430,000 for a Universal Pre-Kindergarten program. The Cuyahoga County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) provides an extensive array of social service programs that promote the health, well being and safety of Cuyahoga County’s citizens. Recognizing the importance of the first five years of a child’s development, the BOCC established the Office of Early Childhood to administer Invest in Children (IIC), the County’s early childhood initiative. Since 1999, IIC has served 131,000 children, 75 percent of the population under age six. IIC is a comprehensive early learning system that offers a range of services from home visitation to the promotion of health and safety, to high-quality early care and education experiences.
Vocational Guidance Services (VGS)
Vocational Guidance Services (VGS), located in Cleveland, is a 117-year-old not-for-profit organization that provides critical job and social services to people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. Today, VGS is one of the largest and most successful private, not-for-profit training agencies in the state of Ohio, preparing people with barriers to employment for a brighter future. Specifically, the agency provides assessment and evaluation, skill training in a wide variety of vocational fields, work adjustments, “earn while you learn” work opportunities and job placement with follow up services. The more than $180,000 VGS received in the FY08 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill will go to make equipment purchases and some improvements in the Sewing Department at VGS. The new sewing equipment will positively affect production efficiency and worker productivity, which impacts their ability to earn higher wages.
Helping Cleveland State University Students with Financial Aid Concerns
In October 1999, Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich visited Cleveland State University campus to meet with students who were denied financial aid due to the school’s financial aid system. Congressman Kucinich and his congressional staff helped to facilitate finding solutions for students with financial student aid problems and served as an intermediary with CSU administration officials. After a formal request was made by Congressman Kucinich for assistance, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley deployed staff to CSU to help students. Secretary Riley also received from the Congressman a collection of e-mails, letters and a videotape which outline the students’ problems with the financial aid system at CSU. Congressman Kucinich is awaiting a report from the Inspector General on this situation.
Encouraging Young Entrepreneurs
Given the importance of small business and career flexibility in our rapidly-changing economy, Congressman Kucinich believes that all young people could benefit from education and training in how to start their own businesses. He worked with the Greater Cleveland Growth Association and Ohio State University to formulate a new federal program that would enable junior high and high school students to receive training in entrepreneurial skills. This legislation, originally the "Future Entrepreneurs of America Act" (H.R. 4175) was introduced in June 1998 with a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, including Congressman Steven LaTourette (R-Madison). It was later introduced as an amendment to HR 1995, the "Teacher Empowerment Act," and was passed. In the 107th Congress, he introduced the Future Entrepreneurs of America Act (HR 1617), to supply funds going directly to schools and local educational agencies to educate students. It also would establish of a National Clearinghouse for Teacher Entrepreneurship to encourage teacher interest and involvement in entrepreneurship education.
In the 106th Congress, Congressman Kucinich played a key role in improving a significant education initiative. On July 20, 1999, the House passed the Kucinich amendment to HR 1995, the Teacher Empowerment Act of 1999, establishing the National Clearinghouse for Teaching Entrepreneurship. The amendment, which had bipartisan support, was passed by voice vote. The purpose of the amendment was to allow the Secretary of Education to award a grant to an organization with “substantial experience” in entrepreneurship education to create and operate a National Clearinghouse for Teacher Entrepreneurship. The clearinghouse would be responsible for coordinating professional development, distributing materials and encouraging teacher interest in teaching entrepreneurship.
The passage of this amendment capped off months-long effort to promote the teaching of entrepreneurship. Congressman Kucinich first established his leadership on this issue when he introduced a bill to promote the teaching of entrepreneurship, HR 4175, in the 105th Congress. He reintroduced the bill in the 106th Congress (HR 1331) in March of 1999.
In his first term, Congressman Kucinich co-sponsored many education-related bills, including bills that would establish a partnership to rebuild and modernize America’s school facilities, increase Pell Grants, protect students and parents from scholarship scams, and ensure more Americans can pursue post-secondary education after high school graduation.
Congressman Kucinich worked with many of his colleagues, occasionally in bipartisan efforts, to further the cause of education. Congressman Kucinich signed a letter with his Ohio colleagues to continue the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse at Ohio State University for math and science education. Kucinich also signed letters to persons such as the President and committee chairman advocating issues such as rebuilding America’s schools, full funding for adult basic education, full funding for Title VI of the Elementary Education Act that would allow public libraries to purchase new books, and funding for school infrastructure improvement.
As a member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, Congressman Kucinich attended crucial hearings on the status of education in our society. Congressman Kucinich examined the funding of charter schools and voiced concern over the teaching of basic, necessary skills to students at primary and secondary levels. He maintains that although a blending of vocational education and fundamental education is necessary, our educational system must be sure to teach students basic skills. Through his dedicated service to the Education and the Workforce Committee, the Congressman has demonstrated his unwavering support of education.