My mother still substitute teaches in Brooklyn, Iowa, and my wife teaches in Waterloo – so education is extremely important to me. Without the exceptional efforts of many teachers over the years, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to college. Without low-interest federal student loans, I wouldn’t have been able to afford law school. Education is about opportunity for the future, and making smart investments in schools today will pay big returns for Iowa’s economy in the future.
It is time for Congress to overhaul the No Child Left Behind law and focus on preparing our children for what they will do after they graduate. Congress needs to provide more flexibility to states in determining school and student progress. We need to end policies that one-dimensionally require teachers to simply teach students to pass a test. We should also work to increase investments in our schools and ensure that those investments are utilized in a smart way. .
We also need to eliminate unfunded mandates and correct the flawed accountability system that measures students and schools solely on the basis of two test scores on a single day. I believe that class sizes should be reduced, and I believe in providing the funding for a program to achieve that goal. I believe in the inclusion of a variety of accountability measures, the use of growth models in student performance, and providing the funding to study, establish, and properly monitor such measures.
I also believe in education reform that rewards success instead of punishing those who are struggling, and full funding of incentives to improve the education of our children. It’s long past time we passed education reform that meets these goals, provides teachers the support and respect they deserve, and ensures that the success and improvement of our children is the top priority of our education system.
Keeping Kids Physically Fit
According to the Iowa Department of Health, the obesity rate of Iowa children in grades 9 – 12 is 11.3 percent. Many obese and overweight children develop illnesses like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes, which require long-term medical care. This ends up costing taxpayers money, because the costs of this medical care is often borne by Medicaid and other programs.
In 2010, I authored a provision included in a new law that will ensure that our kids are eating healthy while at school. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and will encourage schools to use menu labeling in school cafeterias as a way for children to make healthy food choices.
I was also honored in 2011 to team up with gymnast, Olympic champion and West Des Moines native Shawn Johnson to introduce the Shawn Johnson Fitness for Life Act. The bill combats childhood obesity by promoting the use of innovative technology to improve physical education programs in schools. Technology such as heart rate monitors and computerized fitness assessment programs have proven to be effective in encouraging kids to be physically fit. Shawn Johnson and I both believe that expanding technology use in PE class will make fitness more engaging for kids and more effective. It will teach students how to stay active and combat childhood obesity.
Making College More Affordable
I was proud to be a part of passing the most ambitious student aid expansion since the GI Bill after World War II. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) of 2009 dramatically lowered interest rates on student loans and increased the amount of student aid available, by reforming our student loan system by removing the middlemen from the loan process. The bill also takes steps to ensure that if a student borrower pays his or her loan bills on time, then their loan debt will be erased after 20 years. Public service workers, such as teachers, nurses and military members, will see their loan debt erased after 10 years.