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Amendment to education bill addresses disparities

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By Congressman Tom Perriello

I’m proud to report that last week the U.S. House passed an amendment I offered to address early childhood education in rural areas as part of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. The legislation creates an Early Learning Challenge Fund, which would award competitive grants to states that implement improvements to the state’s early learning system. The goal of the program is to train effective early childhood educators and improve the school readiness outcomes of young children because employers are more motivated to locate in communities that take early education seriously.

Study after study has validated the important role that early childhood education plays in a student’s future educational success and future employment options. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius recently testified before Congress that “too many children are entering school without the basic skills they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.” The Secretary went on to say what many of us already know, "children who start off school behind their peers are more likely stay behind throughout their school lives and into adulthood, meaning they never reach their full potential.”

My amendment, which passed by a bipartisan vote, simply requires those states that accept the federal grants to evaluate and report disparities by geographic area (rural and urban) of available programs for low-income children, and steps the state will take to address the disparity. The intent of the amendment is to reward states for addressing geographic disparities and to ensure that small towns and rural communities are given equal opportunity for early childhood education.

During debate on the House floor about this amendment, my colleague Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Kentucky) said: “This amendment is a positive step and may even move us closer to ensuring more low-income children are helped by this [pre-K] program.”

Beyond improving early childhood education, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act significantly expands access to college and community college education – all while saving taxpayers $10 billion over the next ten years. Also, the bill invests $88.4 million in Virginia’s 5th District over the next ten years through increasing the maximum annual Pell Grant scholarship for students to $5,550 in 2010 and to $6,900 by 2019. The legislation also invests $2.55 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and has funds for renovating facilities at community colleges so our students can learn in modern, updated environments. I voted in favor of the bill.

During debate about this bill, I voted to prohibit federal funds from being directed to the organization ACORN. Recent reports about their misconduct have raised enough questions that I believe no taxpayer funds should be directed to this organization.

The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act is a common-sense way to save money while investing more in education, which is critical to making our workforce more competitive. That’s why the first bill I ever wrote was a $2,500 tuition tax credit, and that’s why I am proud to support this legislation to make college, community college, and vocational training programs more accessible to our young people and displaced workers.

Please feel free to contact me to share your concerns and ideas. You may call 1-888-4-TOM4US (1-888-486-6487); write to 1520 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; or visit www.perriello.house.gov to sign up for my weekly e-newsletter.