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Education

 

 Signing the Head Start legislation
Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker, sending the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act to the President.

 

Education is the cornerstone to building America's future. We must make a national commitment to education by strengthening our schools, fully funding special education, and modernizing our classrooms. At the same time, we must work to reduce class size, put in place the means for students to attain higher education, and make sure that we have the best trained, most qualified teachers in the world. Democrats are committed to providing high quality education to all of America's students, creating a nation ready for the challenges of the 21st century.

21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act

On May 14th 2009, the House passed the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act, H.R. 2187, which will make critical investments to modernize, upgrade and repair school facilities across the country - creating healthier, safer, and more energy-efficient learning environments.  The bill will improve education, create jobs, and encourage energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources in our schools.

School buildings should be safe and healthy learning environments for children. But according to recent estimates, America's schools are hundreds of billions of dollars short of the funding needed to bring them up to good condition. Research shows a correlation between school facility quality and student achievement. Modernizing school buildings would help revive our economy by creating jobs and preparing workers for the clean energy jobs of the future. And by upgrading school buildings to make them more energy efficient and more reliant on renewable sources of energy, modernized school buildings can also help reduce the emissions that contribute to global warming. Congress already has endorsed these principles by making green school modernization, renovation and repair part an allowable use of funds under the state fiscal stabilization fund in the H.R. 1, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act

On March 31st 2009, the House passed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, H.R. 1388 - legislation that launches a new era of service that will give Americans of all ages an opportunity to invest through service in our nation's recovery. This bill was signed into law by President Obama on April 21st, 2009.

President Obama has called on Congress to create new service and volunteer opportunities for Americans that will help to build a stronger country. This legislation answers his call and launches a new era of service that will give Americans of all ages the opportunity to help our nation recover and make progress on education and other key goals by volunteering, whether it is helping students achieve in school, weatherizing homes and greening communities, rebuilding cities in times of disaster, feeding the hungry, helping seniors live independently, and much more.

Provides Incentives for Middle and High School Students to Engage in Service

  • Establishes the Summer of Service program that engages middle and high school students in volunteer activities in their communities and allows them to earn a $500 education award to be used for college costs. Students will be eligible to participate in two terms of service and earn up to a total of $1,000.

Makes High School Students Part of Solution to Challenges in their Communities

  • Establishes Youth Engagement Zones, a new service-learning program to engage low-income high school students and out-of-school youth in volunteer efforts that address challenges in their local communities. The program will encourage partnerships between community-based organizations and schools in high-need communities and apply real world activities to teach students about a certain topic. For example, volunteering in a homeless shelter could supplement a class about poverty.

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Investing in Education for the 21st Century

Economists tell us that strategic investments in education are one of the best ways to help America become stronger, and more productive and competitive.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law by President Obama on February 17, 2009, makes investments to modernize our schools, help the states avoid teacher layoffs and other education cutbacks, and make college more affordable.  Economist Zandi estimates that, overall, this recovery package will save or create more than 250,000 jobs in the education and health care sectors.

Preventing Teacher Layoffs and Education Cuts/Modernizing Schools

  • Establishes a $53.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which has three components:
    • $39.5 billion that goes to local school districts using existing funding formulas, which can be used to restore state education cuts; prevent teacher layoffs; prevent other education cutbacks; modernize, renovate, and repair public schools; and for other purposes;
    • $5 billion in incentive and innovation grants to be distributed by the Secretary of Education on a competitive basis to states and local school districts for progress achieved on key education reform and student achievement objectives; and
    • $8.8 billion to states for high-priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education, including modernization, renovation and repair of public school and higher education facilities.
  • The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund is vitally needed because states are facing an unprecedented, massive fiscal crisis.  Budget shortfalls are already projected for 43 states for the upcoming FY 2010.  Initial estimates of these shortfalls total almost $94 billion.  As the full extent of FY 2010 deficits become known, state shortfalls are likely to equal $145 billion.
  • In recent months, 28 states have implemented cuts in education due to budget shortfalls - for example, Georgia has cut aid to school districts by $95 per pupil; the University of Florida has eliminated 430 faculty and staff positions; and the University of Kentucky is raising its tuition 9 percent.
  • Without the recovery package, school districts across the country would have to enact further cuts.  Newspaper stories from across the country show the following:  “As many as 2,300 teachers could face midyear layoffs because of the state budget crisis, Los Angeles Unified School District officials said.”  (Los Angeles Times, 1/7/09)  “Local school officials are preparing for drastic budget cuts…Most Marion and Polk County school districts are considering shortening the school year, asking staff to take salary cuts, or eliminating programs.”  (Statesman Journal - Oregon, 1/21/09)
  • Projects to modernize public school and higher education facilities - which are permitted under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund - will create new construction jobs while ensuring that students can learn and teachers can teach in safe, healthy, technologically up-to-date, energy-efficient learning environments.

Additional School Modernization Funding

  • Also includes school modernization bond provisions.   These provisions create a new category of tax credit bonds for the construction, rehabilitation, or repair of public school facilities or for the acquisition of land on which a public school facility will be constructed.  There is a limitation on the amount of qualified school modernization bonds that may be issued of $25 billion.

Making College More Affordable as Working Families Are Struggling

  • In this recession, tens of millions of students are losing the opportunity to go to college, with their families struggling - and this package includes key steps to keep the doors of college open to these students.
  • Improves current higher education tax credits, by creating a new “American Opportunity” tax credit with a maximum of $2,500 rather than the current maximum of $1,800 -- thereby making college more affordable for millions of low- and moderate-income students.
  • Also provides this new “American Opportunity” tax credit to more than 4 million low-income students who had not had any access to higher education tax credits in the past - by making it partially refundable.  As a result, the nearly one-fifth of high school seniors who receive no tax credit under the current system will receive a tax cut to make college affordable for the first time.
  • Makes college more affordable for approximately 7 million students by increasing the maximum Pell Grant by $500, for a maximum of $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010, and also backfilling the program's funding shortfall.
  • Adds $200 million to the vital Work-Study program that supports undergraduate and graduate students who work while attending college.  The increased funding will allow an additional 133,000 students to participate.
  • As the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities has stated, “Together these proposals mean that low-income students and families on the brink of stopping or dropping out of their higher education plans can stay in, and that unemployed workers can choose retraining for a new job.”

Investing in Early Childhood Development

  • Provides $2.1 billion for Head Start, which provides comprehensive development services to low-income preschool children - thereby providing services for 110,000 additional children.  The $2.1 billion in additional funds includes $1.1 billion for the vital Early Head Start infant and toddler program.  These investments will create 50,000 new jobs, increasing the demand for early educators, transportation providers, nutrition providers, etc.
  • Research has shown that Head Start works and is a good investment for taxpayers - saving society money in the long-term.  Studies have shown that Head Start is one of the best ways to improve child well-being, increase the educational achievement and future productivity of children, and reduce crime.
  • Provides $2 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant to provide child care services to an additional 300,000 children in low-income families while their parents go to work.  Today, only one out of every seven children eligible for federal child care assistance receives it.

Providing Other Key Education Investments

  • Provides $13 billion for Title I grants to help disadvantaged kids reach high academic standards - ensuring that in this period of tight state and local budgets these vital services are maintained.
  • Provides $12.2 billion for grants for IDEA (Special Education) to increase the federal share of these costs, and ensure adequate resources for these mandatory services.
  • Provides $650 million for Education Technology, in order to invest in 21st century classrooms, including funding computer labs and training teachers to use technology.
  • Provides $300 million for improving teacher quality, including $200 million for competitive grants to school districts and states to provide performance pay for teachers and principals who raise student achievement and close the achievement gaps in high-need schools and $100 million for competitive grants to states to address teacher shortages and modernize the teaching workforce.
  • Provides $250 million for statewide data systems, providing competitive grants to states to design and develop data systems that analyze individual student data to help teachers and administrators improve student achievement.

Learn more>>

Legislation in the 110th Congress: 

Largest college aid expansion since the GI Bill in 1944

Because a college education is as important today as high school was a generation ago, the Democratic-led House passed landmark legislation to make college more accessible and affordable for all Americans. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act makes the largest increase in college aid since the GI Bill in 1944, boosting college aid by more than $20 billion dollars over the next five years. The bill was signed into law in September of 2007. Watch:

 
With today's economy squeezing families and tuition prices continuing to soar, the high cost of college remains a top concern for Americans. However, there is some good news for college students and their families: New financial aid benefits enacted last year are beginning to kick in for this fall.

Thanks to the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which provides more than $20 billion in federal student aid over the next five years, interest rates on need-based (subsidized) federal student loans have begun dropping from 6.8 percent to 6.0 percent on July 1st - making these loans more affordable for millions of low- and middle-income students. This is the first of step towards halving these interest rates - over the next few years these rates will continue to decrease until they reach 3.4 percent.

WHO BENEFITS FROM THIS INTEREST RATE CUT?

Low- and middle-income students and families
5.5 million students borrow need-based federal student loans each year. This interest rate cut will save the typical four-year student starting college this fall (with need-based student loan debt) about $2,570 over the life of his or her loan.

  • According to the Congressional Research Service, 75 percent of need-based federal student loan borrowers have family incomes below $67,000.
  • According to the U.S. Census, in 2006, the overall U.S. median income for a family of four was roughly $65,000.

For the 2008-2009 school year, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act will also:

  • Increase the Pell Grant scholarship by $490 (raising the maximum award to $4,731).
  • Provide up-front tuition assistance of $4,000 each year for students who commit to teaching high-need subjects in high-need public schools.

Learn more about the College Cost Reduction and Access Act>>
SIGNED INTO LAW

Uninterrupted access to low-cost student loans, despite credit crunch

In recent months, turmoil in the U.S. credit markets has made it difficult for some lenders in the federally guaranteed student loan program to secure the capital needed to finance college loans, leading some lenders to scale back their lending activity. While no student or college has reported any problems accessing federal student aid to date, it is only prudent for the federal government to make sure that contingency plans are in place that would provide students and families with continued, uninterrupted access to federal loans, regardless of what's happening in the credit markets. The Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008 provides new protections, in addition to those in current law, to ensure that families can continue to access the loans they need to pay for college.
SIGNED INTO LAW

Giving colleges incentives to rein in tuition increases

A college education continues to be the best path to the middle class. But more and more, high college prices and other obstacles are putting a college degree further out of reach for America's students.  In addition to rising tuition, students and their families face an overly complex federal student aid application process and a student loan industry mired in conflicts of interest and corrupt lending practices.

The College Opportunity and Affordability Act, which will continue this Congress' effort to make college more affordable and accessible. This bill would reform our higher education system so that it operates in the best interests of students and families, while boosting our competitiveness and strengthening our future.
PASSED HOUSE AND SENATE

Head Start preschool improved and expanded

The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act will reinvigorate Head Start and help more children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed. The bipartisan legislation improves teacher and classroom quality, strengthens Head Start's focus on school readiness, expands access to Head Start for more children, ensures that centers are well-run, boosts coordination between Head Start and state and local programs, and improves comprehensive services that help children by helping their families.
SIGNED INTO LAW