Today marks the fourth anniversary of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Since 2009, over 37,000 Pennsylvania servicemembers, veterans and military families have taken advantage of these educational and vocational benefits. I am proud to have supported this law as it shows the commitment we must have to our servicemembers, veterans and military families. To find more information on GI Bill benefits use this link: http://gibill.va.gov/
All blogs filed under Education
As more of Pennsylvania’s children head back to school, on Friday, I travelled to Harrisburg to continue my conversations with state and local leaders about early learning opportunities in Pennsylvania to understand how we can ensure more of our youngest citizens get off to a good start in school and in life.
Whereas the week before I held a roundtable with leaders in Pottstown involved in the district’s pre-k readiness initiative (PEAK), this past Friday I met with leaders from across the state who are involved in implementing, overseeing and supporting early learning programs in the Commonwealth, including Head Start, Pre-K Counts, and Keystone Stars.
As was the case in Pottstown, leaders in Harrisburg voiced tremendous support for the programs and talked about the many ways that families and children have been helped by Pennsylvania’s investment in early learning. They emphasized that investments in early education and child care offer great value for the workforce of today, as well as the workforce of tomorrow, and that even in the face of tight budgets for families and the Commonwealth, they should be sustained. They also noted the need to support not just low-income families, but middle class families who also struggle to afford quality care and education for their young children.
I agree that such investments must be a priority – and not just for states. I was gratified that before the August recess, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out a Labor-Health-Education bill that for FY2011 includes an increase of $1 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant – a program that supports states investments in child care – and an increase of nearly $1 billion for Head Start. This funding will help to ensure that states and communities continue to build on the strong work that has been done over the past several years to ensure more hard working American families and their children have access to high-quality early learning opportunities.
Of note, in the Labor-Health-Education bill, $300 million has been requested for the Early Learning Challenge Fund (ELCF). This fund is a terrific idea, as it would provide competitive grants to states to raise the bar for early childhood programs, encourage them to coordinate quality improvement activities across early learning settings, and increase the number of low-income children in high-quality programs. We must preserve support for ELCF in the final Appropriations package, as it will help to incentivize states to continue making investments in early learning.
Monday afternoon I visited Tionesta to meet with the Commissioners and other local representatives about The Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-Determination Act and Marcellus Shale.
I explained that although Marcellus Shale has the potential to create many jobs for our state, our history shows that we must proceed properly and ensure that appropriate safety and environmental concerns are addressed. I currently have two bills that address these concerns, and will introduce a third this September.
The citizens of Tionesta also expressed how important Secure Rural School funding is to Forest County. Almost half of Forest County is covered by the Allegheny National Forest which means they have a very small amount of taxable land. This has created a challenge for Forest County, and rural school districts across the County, in generating the appropriate level of revenue to fund their schools. The Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-Determination Act works to address this problem by creating county payments to offset these shortfalls. I hope to address their concerns when the act comes up for re-authorization in 2012.
Earlier this week, I spent some time in Lawrence County. On Monday evening I wrapped up my day by joining local farmers and constituents at the Lawrence County Fair. As I walked through the fair, I was able to meet many of the dedicated farmers and youth involved in this annual summer tradition. I saw firsthand the variety of exhibits that showcase the ingenuity and ongoing growth of the agriculture industry in Pennsylvania. I was particularly impressed with the Mobile Ag Education Science Lab. This lab travels to schools across the state, educating students on the agriculture industry. By providing a hands on experience, children are making the important connection between agriculture and the food on their table.
On Tuesday, I visited Ellwood City to see the work they are doing with Appalachian Lighting Systems Inc. Appalachian Lighting is a local manufacturer of high-efficiency LED fixtures. Through the use of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Ellwood City was able to increase their orders through Appalachian Lighting resulting in significant energy efficiency improvements for the Borough. This partnership is an impressive example of how these funds can be utilized to stimulate business, encourage cost saving improvements, and foster economic growth. My father visited Ellwood City often, and I know he too would be proud of Ellwood City and the great work they are doing.
On Monday, I joined Governor Ed Rendell and representatives from the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign for a rally on the steps of the State Capitol Building rotunda. At the Parents’ Rally for Education, parents and students alike spoke of the importance of maintaining adequate funding levels for school districts throughout the state of Pennsylvania.
Following statements from citizens throughout the Commonwealth, I discussed how several important federal policies impact the state budget. The Keep Our Educators Working Act, which I am cosponsoring, is as straightforward as it gets when it comes to education: by creating a fund to provide education aid to the states, it would save between 12,000 and 15,000 teaching jobs throughout Pennsylvania. Equally important, however, are extensions for FMAP funding for Medicare, unemployment insurance, and COBRA. Extended FMAP funding is necessary to ensure that the state of Pennsylvania does not suffer a large budget gap, which could result in cuts in education. Unemployment and COBRA extensions are needed not only to protect vulnerable Pennsylvanian families, but also to prevent economic recovery from being stifled, which could hurt the state’s ability to collect the revenue it needs for education and other programs. Without this funding, Pennsylvania could experience 20,000 layoffs and a threat can be posed to public safety and schools. Extending this funding has majority support in the Senate. And it has bipartisan support outside of Washington with 42 governors having signed a letter urging Congress to extend this funding, including 26 Democrats and 16 Republicans.
The message of the Parents’ Rally for Education is an important one that I will carry with me to Washington DC. I will advocate tirelessly for the passage of the Keep Our Educators Working Act, and for extensions for FMAP funding, unemployment, and COBRA. These programs are important to the citizens of the Commonwealth and vital for assisting state budgets and ensuring economic recovery.