Reauthorize ESEA, help revitalize the economy

The nation’s op-ed pages are filled with passionate voices advocating for one cause or another, representing the many challenges we face: the economy, national security, gas prices and healthcare to just name a few. It’s hard to imagine one issue transcending or touching all others, but there is such an issue: The education of our young people.

With the end of the school year near, I hope all Americans, especially members of Congress, will reflect on the role education plays in this country. We must pay special attention to the 1.3 million students who will not graduate this year because they dropped out of high school, along with the 2.1 million students that haven’t yet left, but attend low-performing schools where their chance of graduating is practically a coin toss. It’s estimated that one class of dropouts costs the nation $337 billion in lost lifetime earnings and subsequent taxes. Revenue we can hardly afford to turn away.


Bullying in schools can have long-term impact

Our children can’t learn or thrive in unsafe schools that tolerate bullying or harassing. As President Obama pointed out at the White House Conference on Bullying we must: “dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not. Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it’s not something we have to accept.”
Among those destructive consequences of bullying are lowered academic achievement and aspirations, increased anxiety, loss of self-esteem and confidence, depression and post-traumatic stress, general deterioration in physical health, self-harm and suicidal thinking, feelings of alienation in the school environment, such as fear of other children, and absenteeism from school.


Legitimate backlash to the DoEs 'gainful employment' rule

It has to be difficult for policy makers to admit failure, especially when Congress has soundly rejected misguided proposed regulation.    

But when a group of 118 lawmakers of both parties urge you to re-evaluate your policy; when leading advocacy groups and Members of the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses voice their opposition; when your department is investigated by the inspector general for possible corruption; and when you are forced to make statements correcting erroneous data – maybe, it’s time to admit your blunder and start again. 

So what policy could be so ill conceived as to warrant such a backlash?  


Provide financial support to historically black colleges and universities

Challenging financial times such as these require difficult funding choices. That is why the members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have seized the mantle of leadership and provided financial support in recent spending bills for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and primarily black institutions (PBIs). 

The FY2010-enacted budget included $85 million in funding, and the FY2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) included a similar level of funding. And even as our nation faced its worst recession since the Great Depression, the CBC pressed President Obama to include comparable prior-year funding in his FY2012 budget request.

It is important to note that the members of the CBC have never wavered in its support of HBCUs and has sought to ensure that they will remain financially viable and able to provide the highest quality of education for the next generation. As members of Congress, we believe it is vital to invest in education and to help all children receive an early, healthy head start in order for them to thrive and grow to their full capacity. We believe it is critical to invest in human capital and to support those programs and institutions that spur and sustain it. 


Education hornets’ nest: Creating a national K-12 curriculum

The U.S. Department of Education has, since September of 2010, been financing the work of two testing groups to create a national K-12 curriculum for English and mathematics. But in launching this new initiative, Education Department officials seem to be acting at crosspurposes with existing federal statutes, and, as their initiative becomes better known, it may bring out a multitude of opponents.

The new national curriculum is designed to complement a federally-funded national testing system that will test every public school student in America. Left unchallenged, this federal effort will establish for America a new system of national tests, national academic content standards, and a national curriculum.


Why charter schools deserve our support

Many students get trapped in failing schools and need a way out and public charter schools offer that opportunity. Charter schools serve as a consistently high-quality alternative to some failing public schools. They put a real premium on quality education and are often held to a higher standard of accountability for student achievement.

Charter schools offer parents the choice and flexibility to escape struggling schools and the education bureaucracy that surrounds them. I believe parents are best equipped to make decisions for their children, including the educational setting that will best serve the interests and educational needs of their child.

It is for that reason that I believe states should lift caps on the number of charter schools that can exist and the number of students these schools can serve. Charter schools have made great strides in raising achievement and tackling unique educational challenges from urban centers to rural areas. But despite their many successes, charter schools are not growing as they should. They face overwhelming barriers to expansion, from arbitrary state caps to hostile state legislatures.


Students before districts

A nine-year-old student, according to his own mother, “was on the edge of failure and about to give up on himself.” We’ve heard this story all too often, and, most of the time, it doesn’t have a happy ending. Yet this one does. “He turns in assignments early now,” reports his mother, adding, “And he said ‘I’m proud of myself.’” 

What turned this around? Supplemental tutoring did. This sort of success story is commonplace when students receive individual instruction after school. We all know No Child Left Behind (NCLB) got a lot wrong. One thing it got right, however, is that it provides just this sort of individual instruction, in the form of free tutoring for low-income students in failing school districts.


Higher education: The Senate's golden opportunity

A political issue that enjoys broad support is rare, especially during a contentious budget debate occurring in a painfully jobless economic recovery. Even more rare is when said issue has a base of politically active supporters, giving politicians precious capitol to do what is both right and popular in a time when common ground seems like foreign soil. Luckily for today’s legislators, there is such an issue: higher education.
A political issue doesn’t develop a swell of organic support unless there is a problem, and access to college is certainly a burden on families nationwide. A vast majority of college students require loans to finance their education and the average borrower now graduates nearly $25,000 in debt. This number has been ballooning exponentially over the years to the point where Americans now owe around $1 trillion in student loan debt - that’s even more credit card debt.


Limiting sexual discussion in the classroom

National media outlets have dubbed my legislation the "Don't Say 'Gay' Bill", improperly implying that the legislation is a gag order on a word or words.

In actuality, the legislation specifically limits the introduction of sexuality discussions as part of the official curriculum for children grades K-8, exempting discussions of biology.

The impetus behind my legislation is the case of David and Tonia Parker, the parents of a kindergartner in Massachusetts. The Parker family requested their child be allowed to opt out of homosexual discussions in the classroom, similar to opt-outs available for Jehovah's Witnesses regarding recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.


Students feeling nation's neglect for their future

Forty-three states have cut their educational budgets over 40 percent since 2007 and the Department of Education is being cut $11.5 billion this year, maybe even more. Money can always give our legislators reasons to loose sight of the lives being affected by their decisions. The atrocities of the budget cuts have left my colleagues and I weary of further persuing this unfulfilled education.

America is already at the bottom of the list when it comes to education, so how do we continue to call ourselves world leaders?