On Monday, I held a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Field Hearing on Partnering to Prepare: Expanding Access to High Quality Early Childhood Education because I believe every parent, regardless of income, should have access to high quality pre-kindergarten for their children. I introduced the Prepare All Kids Act in both the 110th and 111th Congress to help all children prepare for school by investing in high-quality pre-kindergarten education that will give our children the best start in life.
The hearing was held at the Morrisville School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which has had success with its state-funded Pre-K Counts program. At the hearing I was able to gather valuable information from six witnesses: Dr. Elizabeth Hammond Yonson, who is the Superintendent of the Morrisville School District; Melissa Bowman, who taught Pre-K in both Philadelphia and Morrisville and currently teaches kindergarten in the Morrisville School District; Michelle Fina, who is the Branch Director of the Morrisville YMCA, which runs a Pre-K program; Dr. Deborah Ackerman, who is a professor at Rutgers University and has conducted research on the benfits of high-quality Pre-K programs; Joan Benso, who is the President & CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and; Todd Klunk, who is the Acting Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office of Child Development & Early Learning.
All of the witnesses provide years of experience either working directly with children in Pre-K programs, administering Pennsylvania’s Pre-K programs or conducting years of research on the benefits that pre-K programs provide. Listening to these testimonies reinforced the need and importance of ensuring that our children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, are able to access high quality early childhood education. It is especially important as the HELP Committee moves toward the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also called “No Child Left Behind.”
Beyond individual families, there are enormous benefits to communities and the economy, which will never remain competitive if we do no rethink how we educate our children.
On Monday, March 22, I joined members and guests of the Rotary Club of Harrisburg to discuss a very important issue: jobs for Pennsylvanians. During the event, I spoke with many members and guests who are committed to energizing the economy in Central Pennsylvania. I also outlined some of the benefits that Pennsylvanians can expect to receive from the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (HIRE Act) that was passed by Congress and signed into law last week. This bill is the first in a planned series of bills targeted towards job creation and retention. As this work continues in Congress, I will continue to listen to workers, business leaders and economists on the best ways to move forward to create jobs and help our economy.
Asian carp are very large fish that can weigh up to 100 pounds and are able to eat 40 percent of their body weight each day. The carp are about five feet long and have an abundant reproduction rate. Due to their voracious appetites and quickly increasing population, the carp pose a serious threat to the ecosystem of the Great Lakes.
In the 1970s, farmers imported Asian carp to clean up algae from ponds in the Deep South. Since this time, the invasive species has migrated north. Asian carp are now at the edge of the Great Lakes. The carp were able to enter the Great Lakes territory when the electric barrier fence between Lake Michigan and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which were installed to keep the fish contained to the canal, was shut down for maintenance. Because the electric barriers were not functioning and the carp would have the opportunity to enter into the Lake Michigan area, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources used in the canal a natural fish poison called rotenone, which was to make sure that any carp that got through were exterminated before irreversible damage was done.
Protecting the Great Lakes from harmful invasive species is important. For this reason, I am a co-sponsor of the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act, which will protect Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes by prohibiting the importation of an invasive species and will prohibit federal agencies from promoting the introduction or spread of invasive species unless the benefits outweigh the harm. I believe that the Great Lakes are invaluable natural resources for Pennsylvania and the United States and should be protected.
On the first day of President's Day recess, I stopped for lunch at the Cabin Kitchen in Emporium, Cameron County to sit down with local officials to hear their concerns and ideas on economic recovery. With unemployment over 16%, Cameron County has the highest rate in Pennsylvania. While the unemployment is disconcerting, the bipartisan effort that local officials are taking to meet the needs of the county ought to serve as a model in Washington. It is so valuable to hear from these leaders who are on the ground to really understand how the economy has affected Pennsylvanians.
After an informative meeting and a great tuna hoagie, I am heading to Clearfield County.
On my way from Scranton to Washington this morning, I stopped in Elkins Park, Montgomery County to tour the Women's Center of Montgomery County to see Recovery dollars at work. The Women's Center received federal funding through the STOP Violence Against Women grant program. This money allowed the Center to create two new jobs, retain six more and expand the hours of another part-time employee.
The work of the employees and volunteers is truly inspirational. They assist women in some of the darkest days of their lives to find them the resources and services they need to stay safe and succeed. The Center serves as just one example of how the Recovery Act creates jobs, but also how it has a profound and positive impact in the community.
I'm off to Washington barring more snow.