As someone whose life was transformed by education, I understand the importance of providing all Nevadans with the opportunity to receive a quality education. That is why I have fought 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. I also remain committed to addressing Nevada's high dropout rate, concerns with the No Child Left Behind Act, and ensuring that Nevada students graduate prepared for college or a career.
Supporting Nevada's Teachers, Public Schools, Colleges, and Universities
In 2010, when school districts in Nevada and all across the country were 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, which helped keep as many as 1,400 teachers across Nevada in the classroom. In addition, over the course of 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
Over the last few years, Congress has significantly increased federal financial assistance for students. I was pleased to help lead these efforts with passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, and the Health Care and Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. Combined, these bills have led to dramatic increases in federal financial assistance for low- and moderate-income students and their families by increasing the maximum Pell Grant to $5,550 and linking the grant to inflation to ensure that it will keep pace with the rising cost of higher education. These bills also expanded student loan forgiveness opportunities, and implemented and strengthened the Income-Based Repayment Program (IBR). This fall, college graduates in Nevada will be able to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their net income through the IBR program, and have their student loans forgiven after 20 years of making payments. For more information on federal student loans and the IBR program, please click here to download my "Frequently Asked Questions on Federal Student Loans" brochure.
The College Cost Reduction and Access Act also contained a provision that cut the interest rate for Federal Direct Stafford loans over the course of five years. The interest rate was scheduled to increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1, 2012. This increase would have saddled more than 7 million students, including 26,000 Nevadans, with an additional $1,000 in interest over the life of each loan. In order to protect students from the increase in student loan interest rates, Congress recently passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, which contains a provision to keep the interest rate for federally subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent for another year.
For more information on all federal student aid programs, visit StudentAid.gov.
The Recovery Act also created 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 No Child Left Behind
The Senate and House education committees are currently working on ways to improve NCLB – which is now referred to by its original name, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). I am committed to a reauthorization that ensures accountability, but recognizes all levels of student improvement and growth. Since schools across America and Nevada cannot wait on Congress to make changes to the law, the Secretary of Education recently announced that the U.S. Department of Education would waive certain provisions of No Child Left Behind in exchange for continuing reforms begun under the Recovery Act. In August 2012, the Secretary of Education granted Nevada’s waiver request, freeing districts across the state from many of the requirements in the law and providing more flexibility to schools.
Preparing Nevada's Students for the Global Economy
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.
Improving Nevada's Graduation Rates
Expanding Access to Quality Early Childhood Education
Attracting High Quality Teachers to Nevada
One of the reasons many college graduates do not enter the teaching profession is because of high student loan debt. To help address this issue, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act expanded loan forgiveness programs for graduates who spend 10 years in a public service profession, including teaching. The legislation also established TEACH grants, which provide grants of $4,000 per year for undergraduate students who commit to teaching in high-need school districts. For more information about student loan forgiveness, please visit StudentAid.ed.gov.
Additionally, the Recovery Act provided over $100 million in grants, which helped Nevada address teacher shortages and provided new routes to teaching for jobless individuals looking to enter the teaching field.
Fulfilling Our Promise to Students with Disabilities
Providing Safe, Reliable Transportation for Rural School Children
Encouraging Nevadans to Serve Their Communities
Providing Healthy Food for School Children
An additional grant of approximately $679,000 was included in the Recovery Act for the Child Nutrition School Equipment Grants Program. This provided essential funding for schools to make improvements to school kitchens in order to handle and process healthy foods. Whether in the home or the classroom, it is important to provide an environment in which children can make good food choices. The funding helped schools across the country offer high quality meals that give our country's children the fuel they need to succeed in school.
Child Nutrition–School Meals
Unfortunately, not every child has that today. Especially, in communities that have been hit with high unemployment and foreclosure rates. In Nevada, there are more than 117,000 children living in poverty who do not know where they will get their next meal. The reality is sobering – more than 60,000 women, infants, and children participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, also known as the WIC Program. Science and good sense tell us that kids need healthy meals to succeed in their classes, be active, and lead healthy lives. The recession has taken a toll on the schools and local governments that provide a nutritious breakfast and lunch to school children and other programs that help families put good food on the table.
This is why I worked with my Senate colleagues in the 111th Congress to unanimously pass the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act. This important legislation, which President Obama signed into law, helps children, schools, and local government provide nutritious meals to children who otherwise would not eat breakfast or lunch. It reduces the paperwork and other red tape that cost schools money and increased the reimbursement rate so schools do not have to absorb the rising cost of food, an increase that has not been made since 1973. This bill also made several other critical changes in what our children eat in school:
The Nevadans who rely on these nutrition programs are people who never thought they would need help. The Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act reduces the stigma of getting help by giving WIC participants electronic debit cards, and in high-needs schools, by giving free lunch to all students so those who cannot afford lunch are not singled out. The bill also increases eligibility for free meals to children who are in foster care. It makes good economic sense and begins the work of fundamentally changing the quality of food served in our schools.
Senator Reid and Education Secretary Duncan meeting with the principal and parents from Harmon Elementary School in Las Vegas.
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