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, roughly 1,600 children and families 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. Senator Leahy is disappointed that many Head Start programs in Vermont and around the country have been forced to turn children away because of insufficient funding due to sequestration.
As Congress continues to debate the best options for funding the Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14), 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 FY14 appropriations bill. Please click here to view their letter.
Elementary and Secondary Education
Supporting education is one of the most important responsibilities of the federal government. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is an opportunity to address the many issues schools have been struggling with since the No Child Left Behind bill became law in 2001. Senator Leahy is fully committed to continuing to work in Congress to make changes to education policy to address the concerns that so many Vermonters have shared such as eliminating high-stakes testing and so-called accountability measures that force principals to be fired even if they are making progress at their schools. Senator Leahy believes the ESEA reauthorization bill should also focus on equality and fairness.
The Strengthening America’s Schools Act was reported out of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on June 12, 2013. Among many aspects of this bill, this legislation ensures greater access to high-quality early education literacy programs. Further, while keeping teachers and principals accountable, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act also ensures they receive the training they need to be successful in the classroom. For more information on this legislation, I encourage you to visit http://www.help.senate.gov and to read the full text of the legislation, please click here.
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 once again joined Senator Max Baucus to introduce the Office of Rural Education Policy Act of 2013, 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.
The full text of the Office of Rural Education Policy Act of 2013 is also available.
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.
In April of 2013, Senator Leahy joined colleagues in requesting a the highest possible funding for Part B of IDEA for negotiations for funding for fiscal year 2014 will continue to support the highest levels of funding for all special education programs. Please click here to read the full text of the letter.
As a father and a grandfather, Senator Leahy understands that there is no greater responsibility than to protect our nation's children by ensuring they have safe environments to learn. Senator Leahy is concerned about the alarming reports of increases in bullying and harassment in our schools.
Vermont has long-recognized the importance of creating a safe school environment for all our children, and has been a leader among states in passing laws to protect school children from harassment. There are a number of useful state and federal resources available:
- The federal government maintains a website with anti-bullying resources
- The Vermont Human Rights commission is another good source of information on students’ and parents’ rights under state anti-bullying and harassment laws
- The website for the Vermont Department of Education’s Safe Schools program links to a number of state based anti-bullying initiatives
Senator Leahy is also proud to be a cosponsor of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require states to collect and report information on the incidence of bullying and harassment and require local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools to work to prevent and respond to incidents of bullying and harassment. This legislation would also require LEAs or schools to notify parents and students annually of conduct prohibited in their school discipline policies that must include bullying and harassment and establish grievance procedures for students and parents to register complaints regarding such conduct. Senator Leahy is also proud to cosponsor of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) which would establish federal protections for those who are discriminated against or bullied based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
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.
Student Loan Interest Rates
On July 24, 2013, the Senate passed bipartisan student loan legislation that would reform how all student loan interest rates are calculated and the House of Representatives approved the Senate version on July 31, 2013. The bill was created in response to the doubling of subsidized Stafford Loan interest rates on July 1, 2013. While the bill passed with wide bipartisan support, Senator Leahy had concerns with the legislation and ultimately decided to vote against it after two amendments to improve the bill did not pass.
The bill ties student loan interest rates to market rates, which means that the rates are variable from year to year based on the market rates at the time a loan is taken out. For students today, their interest rates will be relatively low, but over the next few years rates are projected to climb and reach levels much higher than the previous fixed loan rates.
While Senator Leahy would like lower interest rates for students, the Senator did not feel comfortable voting for a bill that would keep interest rates low for today’s students by forcing future students to pay substantially higher rates. He hopes that the Senate will continue to work to address the overall issues with the cost of college with the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act due later this year. To read Senator Leahy’s statement on the passage of the student loan interest rate legislation please click here.
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 increased funding for TRIO in Fiscal year 2014. 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.
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 Grants in the fiscal year 2014. 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