The future belongs to the nation that best educates its children, and right now that nation is not the United States. Education is one of the most critical long-term economic challenges we face, and we must take bold and immediate action to reverse the decline in our country’s education system. If we make the right investments and reforms now, we can ensure that all of our children have access to quality early education, that high school students are equipped and able to go to college, and that our graduates are prepared for 21st century jobs.
Our commitment to education should begin on day one. Early childhood education is, without question, the most intelligent investment a nation can make in its future. Connecticut has made strides in expanding access to early education for our children, but much of the rest of the nation lags behind. I am working in Congress to broaden the reach of early childhood programs and boost their quality, encouraging new investment and better information for Connecticut parents about program options and quality. During my first term in Congress, we were able to double funding for Early Head Start and expand Head Start, both of which have shown success in closing the achievement gap and improving outcomes for low-income students.
More recently, I have introduced two bills to expand access to and improve the quality of early education programs. These two bills build on the early education success we’ve seen in Southwest Connecticut and would complement the important work the President has done to advance early education and ensure that all of our children have the leg-up they need to succeed in school and contribute to our economy.
First, the Total Learning Act provides assistance to community partnerships focused on implementing advanced early education curricula. The bill is modeled after the renowned Total Learning program used by Action for Community Development (ABCD) in Bridgeport, which promotes multi-modal teaching, intensive parent involvement, and access to important social services. The bill uses the lessons learned from this experience and scales the approach for use at the national level by providing grants to eligible community partnerships to assist in the implementation of advanced early learning curricula.
Second, the Supporting Early Learning Act establishes two competitive grant programs to help states implement or improve early learning systems, particularly for children in low-income areas. The bill expands on historic investments by the Obama Administration into early education by establishing the Early Learning Challenge Fund to support states in building and strengthening their high-quality early learning and development programs. The Funds from both grant programs will be used to implement or improve early learning systems, to help these programs meet and sustain higher levels of quality standards, and to move more low-income children into higher quality programs.
No Child Left Behind
I am hopeful that Congress will soon take up the first major reauthorization of our nation’s education policy since the 2001 authorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB had admirable goals: to close the achievement gap, to improve academic success, and to improve the quality of teaching across the country. Unfortunately, NCLB programs were underfunded by $85 billion and many schools were unable to meet many of the law’s objectives.
The time has come to fix our education law in this country. I am hopeful that in the coming weeks and months, we will begin a serious, transparent, and bipartisan effort to rewrite a law that we all agree is in need of major reform. The status quo is failing our students and putting our future, our economic stability and our global competitiveness at risk.
What needs to change in our federal education policy isn’t a mystery. We have to update the law to respond to student and national needs through college and career-ready standards. We need to modernize the teaching and learning workforce and recognize teachers and leaders as the professionals they are. And, we must target funds to school initiatives that show results and commit resources to turn around low-performing schools, not punish them.
A higher education is becoming too expensive, too quickly. The jobs of tomorrow, especially the good jobs, will require training beyond high school. A quality education system is essential to a strong middle class, which in turn is the engine of our economic growth. If we want America to remain competitive, we must make college - including community colleges and vocational schools - more affordable.
Last year, I was pleased to join a bipartisan majority in passing the Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013 (H.R. 1911), a bill bringing much-needed relief to current and former students buried under mountains of debt. The bill modifies how interest rates on all federal student loans except Perkins loans are set, returning them to a system under which interest rates are tied to market rates. This will effectively reduce the interest rate on Stafford loans from 6.8% to 3.86%. The bill also includes important protections for borrowers, including interest rates that are fixed for the life of the loan, and caps to protect borrowers from high rates in the future.
But our work is not done: we must continue working to find ways to make college and training programs more affordable. I am encouraged by the bipartisan manner in which this bill was passed, and I will continue working with both parties to increase access to a quality higher education.