Senate Democrats

Democrats are Investing in America’s Future: Education

Senate Democrats are committed to fixing the economic crisis inherited from Republicans but to do so we must make critical investments in our nation’s future – including investments in education so that all Americans will be able to compete in the global economy.  Democrats believe everyone deserves access to a complete and competitive education from childhood to college and beyond. Our budget invests in better teachers and better schools, sharpens our focus on teaching science and technology, and ensures all students can afford higher education.

By investing in education, Democrats are investing in the future of America and our next generation of leaders.  After years of neglect and funding cuts during the Bush Administration, Democrats are committed to the belief that quality, affordable education is crucial for our nation’s future economic strength.  The inherited fiscal and economic crises underscore the need to invest in education and training programs to build a highly-skilled workforce ready to compete in the global marketplace. 

Eight Years of Inaction and the High Cost of Education

Skyrocketing College Tuition Costs. Since the 2001-2002 academic year, college costs have risen by 43 to 58 percent.  Average tuition, fees, room and board costs at four-year private universities have increased by $10,276, or 43 percent, from $23,856 to $34,132 in the 2008-2009 academic year.[1] Tuition, fees, room and board charges at four-year public colleges jumped from $9,032 to $14,333 for the 2008-2009 academic year – an increase of $5,301, or 58 percent.[2]

Soaring Student Debt. The rising cost of a college education means that average student loan debt has soared, to more than $19,000. Without adequate federal grants funding, students and their parents must rely more on student loans to finance their college educations.  According to the Institute for College Access and Success, more than 60 percent of college seniors graduate with debt, with an average $19,200 in debt per graduate.[3] Finally, as more students and families rely on student loans, banks are increasing their lending standards due to the credit crunch.[4]  Students and their families remain concerned about continued access to student loans.  

Senate Democrats Create Opportunities for Americans to Learn

In the 111th Congress, Senate Democrats have already passed significant legislation that will create American jobs, invest in America’s future, and improve educational opportunities for all Americans.  These Democratic initiatives address inherited problems neglected over the past eight years.

In February, the Democratic-led Congress enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009(Recovery Act) (P.L. 111-5), to help our nation recover from recession and make long-term investments to strengthen our economy in the future.  Through the Recovery Act, Democrats secured funding to create jobs, maintain critical programs, and ensure that children are not shortchanged in the classroom. 

In March, continuing their record of fiscal responsibility, Senate Democrats passed the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009(Omnibus).   The Omnibus (P.L. 111- 8) reflects the priorities of America’s families with funding for high quality pre-school and after school enrichment programs, financial aid for students attending college and initiatives to assist disadvantaged students reach their potential. 

These investments will address the budget crisis currently gripping state governments.  Already 21 states have implemented cuts to k-12 education and 28 states have cut public higher education or instituted increases in tuition.  The Recovery Act provides $53.6 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund including $39.5 billion for local school districts and public colleges and universities to prevent further cuts, preserve teaching jobs, and maintain important programs for students.  Senate Democrats are committed to ensuring that our students are prepared for the challenges ahead even in the midst of state budget gaps.     

Early education. Educational opportunities at the start of life are critical on the path to success.  The Recovery Act and Omnibus directed $9.2 billion to Head Start and Early Head Start, two programs aimed at providing educational, health, nutritional, social and other activities for young children.  The Brookings Competitive Initiative reports that children who participate in early education programs are more likely to graduate from high school, less likely to commit crime and more likely to secure a job.  Democrats understand that investing in our youngest students is the key to long-term success in school and in the workplace. 

Support for disadvantaged students.  The Title I Grants to LEAs program of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides resources to local school districts to help disadvantaged students succeed academically.  The Recovery Act and Omnibus direct $24.[5] billion for this program.  In addition, these two bills invest a combined $3.5 billion for the Title I School Improvement Grants program, which provides funding to help turn around struggling schools that have been designated in need of improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Support for students with disabilities.  Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) authorizes aid to school districts to help them pay for the costs of educating students with disabilities.  TheRecovery Act and Omnibus provide $22.8 billion for this purpose.   This investment will help students with disabilities achieve success in the classroom. 

Afterschool programs expand learning opportunities.  21st Century Community Learning Centers provide a safe and supervised environment for students before the school day begins and after it ends.  The Omnibus provides $1.1 billion to serve 1.7 million children who rely on these Centers for care and instruction.  These programs continue the learning experience for participating children by providing enriching opportunities while their parents are at work. 

Improve teacher quality. The Recovery Act and Omnibus provide funding for numerous programs that will improve teacher quality and give teachers more tools to help raise student achievement.  The programs and combined funding levels include: nearly $300 million for performance-based pay incentives; $150 million for teacher quality partnership grants to improve the quality of and support for new teachers and recruit highly qualified individuals to join the teaching force; and more than $900 million for education technology grants, which will give students access to 21st century learning tools and provide teachers with professional development.

Reduce the barriers to college.  Pell grants are the foundation of federal financial assistance that helps low- and middle-income undergraduate students and their families pay for the costs of post-secondary education and vocational training.  The Recovery Act and Omnibus direct more than $36 billion to Pell Grants and other federal student aid programs that help millions of families pay for college.  The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2009-2010 school year will be $5,350, an increase of $619 over the 2008 level.  Democrats are committed to assisting families struggling to meet the rising costs of attending college.  This commitment will allow students to continue to attend school, a critical investment in their future and our nation’s competitiveness. 

Senate Democrats Create Opportunities for Americans to Serve

As Americans face the numerous challenges created by the economic crisis, the need for service to our communities is greater than ever.  On March 26, 2009, the Senate approved the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (H.R.1388).  The House passed the legislation on March 31, 2009, and the President has indicated he will sign the bill. 

This legislation reauthorizes the National and Community Service Act of 1990 and the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, and authorizes nearly $6 billion over five years to expand opportunities for Americans to engage in service throughout their lives. 

Currently, programs such as Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America, support almost four million Americans in service to more than 70,000 community organizations.  These services have had the empowering and inspiring effect of mobilizing an additional 2.2 million volunteers.  This army of volunteers has the power to transform and inspire communities across America.

The bill would expand the mission of the Corporation for National and Community Service (the Corporation) and increase the number of national service participants in the AmeriCorps program from 75,000 current members to 250,000 over the next eight years.  An analysis of AmeriCorps shows that every $1 invested produced returns of up to nearly $4 in direct, measurable benefits. By creating the ServeAmerica Corps, the Corporation will be able to target service in four areas in need of increased assistance in low-income communities, including: Clean Energy, Education, Health Futures, and an Opportunity Corps to boost financial literacy.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (H.R.1388) renews a spirit of national service and encourages volunteerism in all age groups.  An Encore program will also be developed to engage the retiring baby boom generation, which has a multitude of talents to share.  A Veterans Service Corps will also be established to support the service of veterans.

Two new programs would be created under the National and Community Service Act of 1990, including a Youth Engagement Zone to Strengthen Communities program and a Campus of Service program.  The Youth Engagement Zones aim to engage high school students and out-of-school youth in the transformative experience of service through partnerships between community organizations and schools in low-income communities.  The Campus of Service program would support and recognize institutions of higher learning with outstanding service-learning programs and provide funding to support students’ pursuit of careers in public service.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (H.R.1388) wouldcreate a Summer of Service program to enlist middle and high school students in volunteer services at home, including a $500 education award to be directed for the cost of college.  The legislation would also increase the education award in AmeriCorps to match the Pell Grant award.  It would raise the award to $5,350 and tie it to future increases in the Pell Grant. The bill permits the education award to be transferrable to the children or grandchildren

At the time of this writing, the House had not considered the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (H.R.1388), as passed by the Senate.

Senate Democrats Focus Budget on Education

This week, the Senate is considering the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Resolution (S.Con.Res.13).  The Budget Resolution recognizes that a high-quality education is the key to individual success in today’s global marketplace and is crucial to securing our nation’s future economic strength.  To maintain our competitiveness in the world economy, American students of all ages, including adults who find themselves in need of retooling their skills to meet the demands of a new economy, must be equipped with the tools necessary to succeed in the 21st Century.  Unfortunately, the rising cost of education, compounded by the economic downturn, has depleted families’ savings and threatened the possibility of higher education for many students.  The Budget Resolution addresses these critical needs by providing our students with critical support and resources. 

Supporting President Obama’s Priorities.  The Budget Resolution fully funds the President’s request for discretionary education and training programs over the five-year budget window.

Expanding Early Childhood Education.  Building on investments made in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5), the Budget Resolution supports the President’s goal of expanding number of children served by Head Start and Early Head Start.  These proven, effective programs prepare low-income children to enter kindergarten ready to learn by providing child development, education, health, nutrition, and other services. 

Increasing Support for Children from Disadvantaged Backgrounds. The competitive educational advantage Americans used to enjoy, relative to other nations, has eroded, and our global competitors now spend less money per student, but have better educational outcomes.[5]  We cannot afford to allow our students to be outperformed.  The Budget Resolution calls for a significant investment in building human capital through programs that target low-income students, such as Title I, and for innovative and effective strategies to reduce achievement gaps and improve student learning.

Improving Student Aid.  In 1979, Pell grants covered over 70 percent of tuition and fees a public four-year university.  Today, Pell grants cover about a third.[[6]]  As the cost of attending college has risen, federal assistance to students and their families has not matched the need.  The Budget Resolution provides a deficit-neutral reserve fund to support a $5,550 maximum Pell Grant award in the 2010-2011 school year.  As the primary source of federal need-based student financial aid, over 75 percent of all Pell Grants are awarded students from families making $30,000 or less.[7]  Pell Grants are indispensable for millions of students who might not otherwise have had the financial resources to pursue a college degree.  The reserve fund will also allow authorizing committees to consider the President’s proposals for student aid, such as expanding and strengthening Pell grants, or to provide tax incentives for higher education.

Preparing and Supporting a Quality Education Workforce.  The quality of our education workforce is key to our students’ education success.  Building on investments made in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Budget Resolution invests in programs designed to improve the skills and effectiveness of America’s educators.

Encouraging National Service. Building on the recently-passed Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (H.R.1388), the Budget Resolution provides the President’s requested funding level for the Corporation for National and Community Service, and encourages Americans to serve their country and community.

Building on Success, Committed to Excellence

Senate Democrats are committed to repairing the economy through long-term investments, including in education, in order to address inherited problems which have been neglected over the past eight years.  We will build on the success of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L . 111-5), the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009,(P.L. 111-8), and the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (H.R.1388) by passing a fiscally responsible budget plan that addresses the fiscal and economic crises inherited from the Bush Administration and lays the foundation for the long-term economic security of the United States.  The Budget Resolution sets the stage for future legislation considered by the 111th Congress, and it is built on the belief that excellence in education is critical to helping Americans compete in the global economy. 



[1]      The College Board, “Trends in College Pricing 2008,” available at http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/trends-in-college-pricing-2008.pdf.

[2]      Id.

[3]      The Institute for College Access and Success (2006), based on an analysis of data from the Department of Education, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (2004) cited in "A New Commitment to Students and Families: Opening the Door to College for All" prepared by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (July 2007) at 12.

[4]      Robert Tomsho, "Tuition Ammunition: a Happy Lesson on Lending" Wall Street Journal (January 6, 2009).

[5]      Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, “Education at a Glance, 2008: OECD Indicators,” Chapters A and B, available at http://www.oecd.org/document/9/0,3343,en_2649_39263238_41266761_1_1_1_37455,00.html.

[6]      The College Board, “Trends in Student Aid 2008,” Tables 5 and 12a, available at http://www.collegeboard.com/html/costs/aid/. 

[7]      U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, “2006-2007 Federal Pell Grant Program End-of-Year Report,” available at http://www.ed.gov/finaid/prof/resources/data/pell-2006-07/pell-eoy-06-07.pdf.

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