As a young man growing up in Searchlight, I hitchhiked forty miles to and from Henderson to attend Basic High School. Those trips were hard and many times I ended up walking some of the way, but ultimately, I was committed because my future depended on it.  In Nevada, our children’s future depends on our commitment to creating world class schools.  That is why I work to provide more resources for Nevada’s schools, colleges, and universities and have worked to make higher education more affordable and accessible to all Nevada students.  We still have a long way to go, but I remain committed to improving Nevada’s high dropout rate, addressing the flaws with the No Child Left Behind Act, and ensuring that Nevada students graduate prepared for college or a career.

 

The Path To College: Resource Guide for Nevada Students (PDF)
El Camino Hacia La Universidad (PDF)

Supporting Nevada’s Teachers, Public Schools, Colleges, and Universities

In order to provide the highest quality education as possible to our students, we need qualified, committed teachers. That is why I helped lead passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), which provided nearly a half a billion dollars in funding directly to Nevada’s schools, colleges, and universities. This funding helped protect several thousand educator jobs and created hundreds more. It also helped prevent increased class sizes, reductions in special education services, and the loss of other, essential school services.

In 2010, school districts in Nevada and all across the country were confronted with record budget deficits that threatened to cripple education. With these schools facing the prospect of having to lay off thousands of teachers, I led passage of the Education Jobs Fund which provided $10 billion to assist states and local school districts retain or hire teachers. Nevada schools received about $80 million in assistance, keeping as many as 1,400 teachers across Nevada in the classroom. Throughout my time in the Senate, I have secured millions in federal funding for essential programs at our K-12 schools, and over a half a billion dollars for research and projects at Nevada’s colleges and universities.

Keeping the Door to College Open

As the world economy becomes more advanced and innovative, a college degree has never been more important. Unfortunately, increasing costs have put higher education out of reach for too many Nevadans. Making college more affordable and accessible for Nevada’s students has been and remains one of my top legislative priorities.

I was pleased to help lead passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, and the Health Care and Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. Combined, these bills have led to a dramatic increase in federal financial assistance for low- and moderate-income students and their families by significantly increasing the maximum Pell Grant, expanding student loan forgiveness opportunities, and implementing and strengthening the Income-Based Repayment Program (IBR). Under IBR, college graduates are able to cap their student loan payments at 15 percent, and have their student loans forgiven after 25 years of making payments. In addition to IBR, in December 2012, the Obama Administration announced that almost two million college graduates across the nation would be eligible to participate in a repayment program that may lower their monthly federal student loan bills. The Pay As You Earn plan allows eligible Nevada college graduates to adjust their payments each year according to income and family size change. For more information on federal student loans and the IBR program, please download my “Frequently Asked Questions on Federal Student Loans” brochure.

More recently, the Senate passed the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013, which rescinded the doubling of student loan interest rates which took place on July 1, 2013. This market-based approach lowered interest rates for the 2013-14 school year to 3.9 percent for undergraduates, 5.4 percent for graduate students, and 6.4 for PLUS (parent) loans. Additionally, the bill caps undergraduate loans at 8.25 percent, graduate loans at 9.5 percent, and parent loans at 10.5 percent. I voted in favor of this legislation in order to provide immediate relief to student borrowers across the nation. And I look forward to considering a more permanent solution that protects Nevada students from potentially high interest rates in the future. .

The Recovery Act also expanded the higher education tax credit by creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a $2,500 partially-refundable tax credit for tuition, fees, or textbooks to help families with the cost of college. For more information on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, visit IRS.gov.

A New Direction for Education

It is clear that significant changes must be made to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) commonly known as No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). When former President George W. Bush signed NCLB into law, I was hopeful that the increased accountability and performance standards, coupled with a significant increase in the federal investment in education, would help raise student achievement levels. Now, more than a decade after the law’s passage, it is clear to all that it is not working for Nevada’s students and teachers and that major changes must be made.

During this Congress, committees in the House of Representatives and Senate have been working to reauthorize ESEA. In an effort to address the concerns of teachers, parents, and administrators, in August 2012, the U.S. Department of Education granted Nevada a waiver of some requirements under NCLB. More than forty states have now been provided with much-needed flexibility in meeting the law’s requirements and in how districts can allocate federal funding. While I am pleased that the U.S. Department of Education’s actions have given Nevada educators a chance to better address the needs of their students, the waiver is only a temporary fix and only addresses a handful of challenges states face with the law.

Over the last two years, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held over a dozen hearings on various aspects of reauthorization, including the need to eliminate the “one size fits all” approach of the law and ensure that students are not just focused on testing, but exposed to a broad curriculum. The committee has heard testimony from numerous educators and experts to help guide them in the reshaping of this legislation. I am hopeful that we will soon be able to bring a full reauthorization bill to the Senate floor.

Preparing Nevada’s Students for the Global Economy

We must ensure that our nation’s students and teachers are prepared to continue leading the world in innovation, research, and technology. I have and will continue to be a champion of scientific research and education. In order to stay competitive long into the future, America needs the necessary education and innovation infrastructure. That is why I was a lead sponsor of the America COMPETES Act in 2007 and the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act in 2010, which focused on increasing American innovation and competitiveness to ensure that our nation’s students and teachers are prepared to lead the world in research and technology. This important legislation has strengthened educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from elementary through graduate school by supporting internship opportunities and fellowships for students and encouraging students studying in STEM areas to pursue teaching credentials. This bill also significantly increased federal investment in research for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Office of Science at the Department of Energy, as well as other federal agencies to strengthen math and science education.

In addition, the Recovery Act included significant funding for scientific research and technology and expanded access to broadband, particularly in rural communities. These investments will help ensure that students have the skills they need to be ready for higher education and the workforce. Unfortunately, since these investments in research and technology, across-the-board cuts known as “sequestration” has had a negative impact on important scientific research and efforts to further expand technology. I have worked hard and will continue to work to replace these senseless cuts with a more balanced approach to reduce our deficit, close wasteful tax loopholes, invest in important priorities such as research and technology, and make more targeted spending reductions.

Expanding Access to Quality Early Childhood Education

Providing Nevada’s children with a high-quality, early childhood education is one of the most important investments we can make in future generations. Specifically, Head Start and Early Head Start have been proven to help children develop their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive skills, laying the foundation for success in school and life. Throughout my time in Congress, I have been a strong supporter of early childhood education programs, including Head Start and Early Head Start. I was pleased to help lead passage of the Recovery Act, which included significant investments in Head Start and Early Head Start and allowed Nevada providers to expand the number of children served by these critical early learning programs. In Nevada alone, over 10,000 three- and four-year-olds are currently eligible for Head Start programs.

Unfortunately, Head Start and Early Head Start have struggled with the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. Sequestration has reduced funding from these programs and cut services to hundreds of Nevada’s youngest children. In an attempt to undo these harmful cuts to vital programs such as Head Start, I have brought several bills to the Senate floor. Unfortunately, these bills failed to gain the votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster. While efforts to address the impact of sequestration have been repeatedly blocked by my Republican colleagues, I will continue to work to achieve a balanced, bipartisan solution to reduce our deficit, close wasteful tax loopholes, and continue to make important investments by reversing these harmful cuts to Head Start and Early Head Start.

Fulfilling Our Promise to Students with Disabilities

Improving educational opportunities for children with disabilities has also been one of my top priorities.  Over a decade ago, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Improvement Act, which requires the federal government to provide 40 percent of the funding towards the cost of special education. After several years of a decreasing federal share under the previous Administration, the Recovery Act, helped increase the federal share of special education funding to its highest level ever, and provided nearly $75 million for special education programs in Nevada schools. Despite these funding increases, sequestration has also had an impact on IDEA funding. I have worked hard and will continue to work to replace these senseless cuts with a more balanced approach.

Encouraging Nevadans to Serve Their Communities

I lead passage of the Serve America Act, to incentivize Americans to serve their communities and help tackle many of the nation’s serious challenges. The bipartisan law builds on the success of the existing AmeriCorps program, tripled the number of volunteers, and created new programs that focus on education, health care, clean energy, veterans, and the economically disadvantaged. The Serve America Act also raised the stipend for AmeriCorps volunteers and created fellowships for people 55 and older, as well as summer positions for middle- and high-school students. In tribute to victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the legislation designated September 11th as a national day of service and remembrance.