For as long as I can remember, education has been extremely important in my family. My mom has taught in Brooklyn, Iowa in eight consecutive decades and she still substitute teaches today. My wife, Carolyn, teaches in Waterloo.
I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to college if it hadn’t been for the efforts so many wonderful teachers made over the years or the help that low-interest student loans provided.
Education is all about creating opportunity for the future and I’ve been lucky to experience that firsthand. Investments we make in education now means Iowa’s children receive the highest quality education possible, and benefits Iowa’s economy for years to come.
Making College More Affordable
Iowa college graduates have one of the highest student debt loads in the nation and piling thousands of dollars more in debt on them puts Iowa students even further behind at graduation. Our colleges and universities are avenues of economic opportunity, and we need to keep higher education attainable and affordable for every person who wants to attend.
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.
I’ve worked hard to keep the interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans low. In 2012, student loan interest rates were set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. But through hard work, I worked to pass legislation to stop the rate increase for another year.
Now, if Congress fails to act by July 1st, student loan interest rates could double again. That’s why I’ve again introduced legislation to permanently extend these low interest rates.
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 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 funding for a program to achieve that goal. It’s time to create useable accountability measures, use of growth models in student performance, and providing the funding to study, establish, and monitor measures for success.
Education reform needs to reward success instead of punishing those who are struggling, and support 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.
When we send our children off to school, our first priority is to make sure they are safe. Keeping our children safe means keeping them out of harm’s way from the moment they walk out their front door in the morning. I’ve been a leader in passing and introducing legislation that ensures our children are safe when they go to school.
When reckless drivers ignore warning signs and pass stopped school buses, children’s lives are put at risk. That’s why I introduced Kadyn’s Act, a bill named after 7-year-old Kadyn Halverson, who was fatally struck by a pickup truck in May 2011, as she crossed the street to board her school bus near Northwood, Iowa.
The legislation is modeled after Iowa’s Kadyn’s Law, which was into law in 2012. Kadyn’s Law requires a minimum fine of at least $250 and the possibility of up to 30 days in jail for first time offenders who are found guilty of illegally passing a stopped school bus. For a second offense of passing a stopped school bus within 5 years, fines would range from between $315 and $1,875 with up to one year of jail time.
Our federal legislation would require all states to strengthen their penalties for drivers who pass stopped school buses to the new Iowa standard at a minimum – or face losing 10 percent of federal highway funding each year.
In 2012, I passed Kadyn’s Amendment in the House. Kadyn’s Amendment would require $10 million to be used for helping states enforce traffic laws that punish reckless drivers for illegally passing stopped school buses. Kadyn’s Amendment was a bipartisan effort and passed the House unanimously.
End Radon in Schools Act
Many people don’t know how big the threat from radon gas is in Iowa. Radon is an invisible, tasteless, and odorless gas that is produced by the decay of naturally occurring uranium in soil and water. It is a form of ionizing radiation, a proven carcinogen, and it is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers in the United States. All of Iowa’s 99 counties are classified in the “Zone 1” risk level by the Environmental Protection Agency, the highest risk level assigned.
Given Iowa’s high risk of radon exposure, I’ve introduced legislation to ensure that we are testing our schools for this dangerous gas. The End Radon in Schools Act will help schools test for radon and remove it from the school environment. These steps will help reduce serious health complications from radon exposure. The bill would give states in high-risk radon areas, such as Iowa, grants to fund tests of radon levels in school buildings. If a school is found to have an unhealthy level of radon, the school would be given funding to remove the threat.
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 are 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.