In Vermont, schools are at the core of what brings our communities together. Vermonters understand the importance of giving our children a quality education and they understand that a child's education begins well before their first day of school and will continue long after graduation day.
Early Childhood Education
Head Start and Early Head Start
Project Head Start, launched as an eight-week summer program by the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1965, helps to break the cycle of poverty by providing preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional, and psychological needs. Early Head Start was established in 1994 to serve infants and toddlers who are too young to participate in the Head Start Program.
Last year, more than 1,500 children in Vermont benefited from this program, and Senator Leahy is proud of the work that communities across Vermont have accomplished in conjunction with Head Start. In recent years, Senator Leahy has been disappointed that Congress has failed to sufficiently fund the Head Start program and has worked to increase funding to this vital program.
As Congress continues to debate the best options for funding the Fiscal Year 2011 (FY11), Senator Leahy continues to support efforts to protect funding for these programs to ensure that these devastating cuts that would remove thousands of children from these critical programs are not enacted. Recently Senator Leahy demonstrated his commitment to these vital programs by joining colleagues in writing to the Appropriations Committee and Senate Leadership urging that they protect early learning opportunities by providing as much funding as possible to Head Start and Early Head Start in the FY11 appropriations bill. Please click here to view their letter.
Elementary and Secondary Education
No Child left Behind/Elementary and Secondary Education Act
Signed into law in 2001 The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was the most sweeping expansion of the federal role in education in America since the 1960s and 70s, when landmark civil rights laws changed the shape of our schools. Senator Leahy voted against the final passage of the NCLB Act because he believed that this approach would have a negative impact on the state of Vermont.
The insufficient funding for education that we have seen since its implementation has placed significant strain on states. The unfunded mandates created by NCLB force schools to shift the limited resources away from proven programs and divert them instead to pay for testing.
Since the law went into effect, Vermonter teachers, parents, and students have affirmed that No Child Left Behind’s cookie cutter approach is not working for Vermont. To raise the bar the right way for schools and students, states need the flexibility to design accountability measures that accurately reflect actual conditions and unique characteristics in real communities. Last year, Senator Leahy led a letter to Secretary Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education outlining the needs of rural communities and districts and is working closely with members of the Senate HELP Committee and Department of Education to ensure that rural needs are recognized throughout the reauthorization process. Senator Leahy believes we need to move away from a focus on penalties and failure, and toward a focus on the quality instruction that our children truly need to succeed. To truly raise the achievement of all of our students in Vermont, Senator Leahy supports policy that recognizes the need for flexibility and sensitivity to the particular needs of our state and students.
Office of Rural Education Policy Act
Senator Leahy understands the unique needs of rural communities and schools and has fought to ensure that rural states and districts are given adequate opportunities to participate in Federal education programs and initiatives. Over 20 percent of American public school children attend a rural school, and the number has been steadily rising since 2004. In Vermont, 53 percent of students are enrolled in rural schools, the second-highest proportion in the nation. Despite the importance of rural education in many communities, rural schools have had little help in providing advanced courses to their students, recruiting and retaining effective teachers, or correcting federal funding inequality.
That is why Senator Leahy has joined Senator Max Baucus to introduce the Office of Rural Education Policy Act, a bill that would create an Office of Rural Education within the Department of Education. The Office would act as a clearinghouse for rural education issues, coordinate with other federal agencies that impact rural schools, and produce annual reports and impact statements. Modeled after the Office of Rural Health Policy, which has made enormous steps toward addressing unique health needs in rural areas, the Office of Rural Education would help to ensure that needs of Vermont schools, and all rural schools are recognized.
To learn more, read the full text of the Office of Rural Education Policy Act in the related files section of this page.
Support Innovation in Student Assessment
Senator Leahy believes that No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) “one size fit all” approach has not worked for Vermont students, and he supports the reform of the current testing system. That is why last Congress he joined Senator Feingold in introducing the Support Innovation in Student Assessment Act, a bill encouraging states to reform the high stakes testing created under NCLB. The legislation increases competitive grant funds for states to create higher-quality, authentic measurements of student performance, including measuring a student’s growth over time instead of a one-time assessment. The funding can be used to train teachers in using these assessments, and creating more innovative and adaptive tests. The full text of this legislation can be found in the Related Files section of this page. To learn more read Senator Leahy and Senator Feingold’s press release on the introduction of this bill.
Because this legislation was not acted upon during the 111th Congress, it will need ot be reintroduced during the 112th Congress. Senator Leahy plans to continue to work with members of the Senate in developing testing standards that are flexible and that accurately measure student achievement.
Flexibility and Innovation in Education Act
Senator Leahy has also teamed with Senator Feingold in introducing the Flexibility and Innovation in Education Act, which gives more control to states and local school districts to create effective accountability models. This legislation would change current testing mandates by allowing individual states the choice of how they measure student performance. Schools are also encouraged to measure students’ growth from year to year to ensure that each student continues to make academic progress. The act will not raise the federal budget deficit, and is endorsed by the Vermont Principal’s Association, the Vermont NEA, and several national education groups. The full text of this legislation can also be found in Related Files section of this page. To learn more read Senator Leahy and Senator Feingold’s press release on the introduction of this bill.
Most programs of federal aid to K-12 education are authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The ESEA was most recently amended and reauthorized by the NCLB. The authorization for ESEA programs expired at the end of Fiscal Year 2008, although ESEA programs continue to operate as long as appropriations are provided, and the 112th Congress is expected to make significant changes to the ESEA this year.
Senator Leahy is working with Chairman Harkin and the members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Vermont Educators and Parents to make the necessary changes to NLCB in order for all children in Vermont to receive the best possible education.
Special Education Programs
Special education and early intervention are essential in helping children with disabilities develop and succeed. Senator Leahy has always strongly supported the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and its commitment to ensuring that children with disabilities have access to an appropriate public education. While the federal government has increased the amount of special education costs it funds, the current amount is still far less than the 40 percent allowed under IDEA.
On February 13, 2009, Senator Leahy supported an economic recovery plan that provided $12.2 billion for special education. Included in this funding was $11.3 billion for the education of students with disabilities under part B of IDEA, $400 million for preschool programs and $500 million for infants and toddlers with disabilities programs funded under part C of IDEA.
In April of 2010 Senator Leahy joined colleagues in requesting a the highest possible funding for Part B of IDEA for the fiscal year 2011 and throughout negotiations for funding for fiscal year 2011 will continue to support the highest levels of funding for all special education programs.
Senator Leahy has been a longtime champion of childhood nutrition programs and has taken an active role in advocating for Farm to School initiatives and improving nutritional standards for school lunches.
For more information on Senator Leahy’s efforts for Child Nutrition please visit his Agriculture, Nutrition and Dairy issue page.
In recent years, average college tuition rates have been increasing faster than inflation and outpacing student financial aid. Sky-rocketing tuitions are making it increasingly difficult for families to afford higher education. Senator Leahy has been a firm believer in the importance of a college education, as well as the doors it can open for a person’s future. The Senator believes no student should be denied the opportunities of a college education because of their family’s financial resources and that is why Senator Leahy has been a consistent supporter of financial aid programs and providing students with access to affordable loans, increasing funding for Pell Grants and federal work-study programs.
Senator Leahy believes that the federal government must rise to the challenge and improve our financial aid programs to ensure that college is an affordable option for all qualified students. No student should be deterred from enrolling and graduating from college because of financial concerns.
TRIO / GEAR UP
The federal TRIO programs and the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) are two additional programs which provide critical services and incentives to disadvantaged students to help increase their secondary or postsecondary educational goals. Senator Leahy has long supported the TRIO and GEAR UP programs and their efforts to increase disadvantage students’ secondary school completion and postsecondary enrollment. Recently, Senator Leahy joined colleagues in requesting a $920.1 million for TRIO programs and services for the fiscal year 2012. Please click here to view the letter in support of TRIO.
Federal Pell Grant Program
The Federal Pell Grant Program authorized by the Higher Education Act (HEA) is the single largest source of grant aid for post secondary education. Pell Grants are need-based aid intended to be the foundation for all federal student aid awarded to undergraduates. Senator Leahy has vigorously fought for funding and support for the Pell Grant Program.
In 2008 Senator Leahy supported the passage of the Higher Education Opportunity Act which amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 to reauthorize higher education programs and included a number of provisions which improved college opportunities and affordability for students and joined colleagues in February of 2009 to support the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which included $15.64 billion for Pell Grants, and increased each Pell Grant award by $500.
Especially during these difficult economic times Senator Leahy believes that we need to be doing more to address the rising costs of higher education and the growing need for student financial aid. The recently passed Health and Education Reconciliation Act (HCERA) encompassed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act , which included provisions to make higher education more affordable and help more Americans earn a college degree. Senator Leahy supported the provision in HCERA that invests more than $40 billion in Pell Grants to ensure that all eligible students receive an award and that these awards will be increased in future years to help keep pace with the rising cost of college. As a result of HCERA, the maximum Pell Grant award doubled to $5,550 and will increases the Federal Pell Grant maximum award to $5,975 by 2017.
Senator Leahy joined his colleagues in writing a letter to Chairman Harkin and ranking Member Shelby of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and human Services, and Education, urging them to maintain funding for the maximum Pell Grant award of $5,550 in the fiscal year 2012. To see the full text of the letter click here.
For more information about resources to make college more affordable please visit the Resources for Parents/Students Resources page found in the Related Information Section of this page.
Office of Rural Education Policy Act
To establish an Office of Rural Education Policy in the Department of Education.
Letter In Support Of TRIO Funding
A letter to Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Richard Shelby, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in support of funding for the TRIO program in the FY 2012 budget. Dated April 7, 2011.
Parent Information and Resource Centers -- Appropriations Letter
March 11, 2011
Enhancing Education Through Technology Program -- Appropriations Letter
March 14, 2011
Improving Student Testing Act
Full Text of S.3771 Improving Student Testing Act
Flexibility and Innovation in Education Act
Full Text of S.3770 Flexibility and Innovation in Education Act
Letter from Senator Leahy and 21 Senators To Secretary Arne Duncan
February 26, 2010