Sen. Bernie Sanders believes every child should have access to the best education possible regardless of their location, income, gender, religion or race. As a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Sen. Sanders has worked to expand early childhood education, supported innovative public school models that engage students and communities and fought to make higher education more affordable for working families.
Since its inception, Sen. Sanders has been a vigorous opponent of the testing regimen put in place under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) because it greatly narrows school and classroom curricula and makes "teaching to the test" the basis of many courses in public schools. He believes that the federal government should be helping schools, not deeming them "failing" and withholding funds from the schools that need them most, as NCLB requires. Likewise, he opposes the unfunded mandates in NCLB which require local schools to complete programs without providing the necessary funding.
In 2009, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Sen. Sanders was able to reinvest in Vermont's teachers and schools and put money in programs that helped fuel the economy. Vermont received over $116 million in aid to schools, including $12 million in aid to Vermont's neediest schools and over $25 million for students with disabilities. All of this was used to help Vermont's classrooms and schools thrive despite difficult economic times, and allowed many Vermont teachers to stay in their jobs. It is estimated that over 900 Vermont teachers saved their jobs because of ARRA funding. For more information, please click here.
As a member of both the Senate's Education and Veterans committees, Sen. Sanders was a strong supporter of the new G.I. Bill, formally titled the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. This resulted in the largest expansion of G.I. education benefits since World War II. The new law has opened college doors to thousands more veterans and their close family members, many of whom would not otherwise have considered going to college because of the expense.
In 2007, Congress passed legislation reauthorizing Head Start. Sen. Sanders, as a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, worked closely with Head Start teachers, parents and administrators to make sure that the bill expanded eligibility for Head Start, included increased funding allotments for the program and included greater flexibility to use funds for Early Head Start (ages 0-3).
Sen. Sanders supported and helped craft higher education legislation that represented the largest expansion of federal support for college students in 40 years. Sen. Sanders worked successfully to make college more affordable and accessible to low- and moderate-income students by increasing funding for Pell grants, which provide aid to those students so they can afford their college studies. Both of these large increases in student aid were accomplished without increasing the deficit. Sen. Sanders championed the creation of a new loan forgiveness program in which loans would be cancelled for college graduates who stay in public service jobs - including nursing, education and law enforcement - for a decade. The legislation provided $17 billion in additional college aid, including $34.2 million over five years in new Pell grants for students attending colleges and universities in Vermont. Another $26.7 million was allotted for increased loans to Vermont students.
Despite these successes, the rising cost of higher education, the increased demand for Pell grants (even though these were expanded twice in the past four years) and the faltering economy have led to catastrophic debt loads on many current students and recent graduates. Sen. Sanders is committed to greater federal support for students going to college as one way of addressing this student debt crisis.
In terms of pre-college education, Sen. Sanders is one of the leading advocates in the Senate for two dramatic changes in how we approach education in America. First, he believes every child should enter school fully ready and able to learn, and on a level playing field with his or her classmates. To that end, he introduced major early education legislation, the Foundations for Success Act. It would provide pre-school children with a full range of services, leading to success in school and critical support for hard-pressed families nationwide.
"As we struggle to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, too many American children do not receive the high quality early care they need," said Sen. Sanders, a member of the Senate Education Committee. "The best way to both address our educational shortcomings and strengthen our economy over the long term is to invest in our children as early as we possibly can."