21st Century Education
Knowledge is opportunity, and knowledge is power. The long-term success of the American economy lies in the strength of our system of education. Our schools were once were the envy of the world, and they will be again. We must ensure that our students are learning the skills they need to regain a competitive edge and innovate – like S.T.E.M. subjects and the four Cs of a 21st century education (critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity).
Closing the Opportunity & Achievement Gap
Many families, including mine, reap the benefits of strong public school districts. In many schools, American students are exposed to superb teachers, a wide variety of academic subjects and after-school enrichment activities.
But not all American children enjoy equal access to a high quality public education. Despite the commitment in the United States to the idea of an equal education for all, there remains a stubborn disparity between educational outcomes for children of different backgrounds and family incomes – and it’s growing. Connecticut ranks towards the bottom, with one of the widest achievement gaps of the fifty states. We must reduce that gap.
We must bring forth legislation to serve as the framework for our country’s education policy and give states and local districts more flexibility, without losing out on accountability. Our nation’s future is dependent on our education system; therefore, closing this gap through allocating resources equally to afford Connecticut’s children an equal opportunity is necessary.
Early Childhood Education
Research definitively shows that investing in the education of our youngest students makes a big impact on their academic careers. Yet fewer than a third of American 4-year-olds currently attend pre-K. We must continue to ensure access to pre-Kindergarten programs here in Connecticut and nationwide.
Nationally, I have worked with my colleagues in the House and Senate to make sure that early childhood education (“ECE”) programs are continuously improving, while reaching as many children as possible. Head Start and Early Head Start are great examples of ECE programs that have repeatedly proved their worth by substantially bettering educational outcomes for low-income children. In fact, students enrolled in these programs are significantly more likely than their non-Head Start peers to complete high school and attend college.
In previous years, I have introduced legislation that will improve our early childhood education programs and provide easier access to them as well. The Total Learning Act creates community partnerships that implement high quality early childhood curricula. The Total Learning Program at Bridgeport’s Action for Community Development was the model for this legislation and is the gold standard with its use of multiple modalities, integration of social services and high level of parent involvement. And the Supporting Early Learning Act establishes two competitive grant programs ($350 million total in its first year) that will help states better their early learning systems. While all students stand to gain from these innovations, I am especially focused on improving outcomes for students from low-income neighborhoods.
College or post-graduate training is no longer a luxury. Yet more and more high school graduates are turning away from the spiraling cost of college and an uncertain future saddled with tuition debt.
That’s why I introduced the College Affordability and Innovation Act in 2015. The bill will create a pilot program to promote innovation in higher education by creating a new, evidence-based grant competition program to promote greater experimentation in delivering higher education to middle and low-income students. The grants will go to innovative programs designed to reduce the amount of classroom time and decrease the costs of completing higher education degrees, such as competency-based courses, online education, and dual-enrollment or fast-track programs.
Most recently, my colleagues and I passed the bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act. That law stopped federal student loan rates from doubling from 3.4 to 6.8 percent and fixed the interest rate for the life of the loan, providing certainty to borrowers. We still have more work to do to ensure college is affordable for all students.
COVID in the Classroom
Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, education in Connecticut and nationwide has undergone much innovation. With more understanding of this virus every day, schools are adjusting and preparing more for a potential second wave of the pandemic. I continue to work towards allocating federal funds for keeping our students safe and healthy as they continue their education.
Connecticut has been one of the first and only states to exhibit significant downturn in coronavirus cases. With continues precaution, schools are able to paint a clearer picture for their students returning for the 2020-2021 school year. I am committed to keeping our students safe as these new precautions are set locally and nationally so that our children’s education is not hindered. I want to emphasize that student safety and the safety of their learning environment is my priority as we continue to face this pandemic.