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A Democratic Blueprint

Ohanian Comment: The only difference I can see between this disgraceful statement from Ted Kennedy's National Press Club appearance and Republican rhetoric is the slight nod toward more funds.

. . . Here at home, but also for the sake of our future in this rapidly globalizing world, I strongly believe that our highest priority must be a world-class education for every American. As Democrats, we seek a future where America competes with others, not by lowering people's pay and outsourcing their jobs, but by raising their skills.

We must open new doors and new avenues for all Americans to make the most of their God-given talents and rekindle the fires of innovation in our society. By doing so, we can turn this era of globalization into a new era of opportunity for America. Universities and school boards cannot master the challenge alone.

We need a national education strategy to assure that America can advance, not retreat, in the global economy in the years ahead.

I welcome President Bush's remarks today on improving our high schools. But, it's clear that unless we fund the reforms under the No Child Left Behind Act for earlier grades and younger children, what we do in high schools will matter far less. We are past the point where we can afford only to talk the talk, without walking the walk.

It's time for the White House to realize that America cannot expand opportunity and embrace the future on a tin cup education budget.

The No Child Left Behind Act was a start, but only a start. We need to do more—much more—to see that students are ready for college, can afford college, and can graduate from college.

I propose that every child in America, upon reaching eighth grade, be offered a contract. Let students sign it, along with their parents and Uncle Sam. The contract will state that if you work hard, if you finish high school and are admitted to college, we will guarantee you the cost of earning a degree. Surely, we have reached a stage in America where we can say it and mean it—cost must never again be a bar to college education.

We must also inspire a renaissance in the study of math and science, because America today is losing out in these essential disciplines. Two major studies last month ranked American students 29th in math among the 40 leading industrial nations. Over the last 30 years, we have fallen from 3rd to 15th in producing scientists and engineers. Incredibly, more than half of all graduate students in science and engineering in American colleges today are foreign students.

National standards in math and science have existed for more than a decade. We need to raise those standards to be competitive again with international norms, and work with every school to apply them in every classroom.

We should encourage many more students to pursue advanced degrees in math and science. We should make tuition in graduate school free for needy students in those disciplines. And we should make undergraduate tuition free for any young person willing to serve as a math or science teacher in a public school for at least four years.

We can make these investments in our nation's future without adding a single penny to the deficit, if we empower colleges to negotiate better agreements with student loan providers. Billions of education dollars needlessly line the pockets of the Sallie Maes of the world. The Bush administration irresponsibly defends this misallocation. Democrats must fight to end it. If Republicans truly care about values, they will join us in throwing the money-changers out of the temple of college education.

Another basic truth is obvious here. How young Americans fare in their school and college years is determined in large part by how well they do in their earliest years.

We must invest much more in early education and healthy development for the youngest children, so that entering school ready to learn is no longer just a hollow mantra but a genuine reality.

For children at home, we must give parents the information needed for their child's well-rounded development. For those in child care, pre-school, or Head Start, we must see that teachers and caregivers have the skill and training to provide the best possible start in life.

A new national commitment to early childhood education must become a top priority. If we fail to meet a child's development needs starting at birth, we fail not only the child, but our country and our future as well. Acting in time in the early years will also achieve immense savings in later costs for remedial education. Prevention works in health care, and it can work in education, too. Our goal should be an America whose commitment to early childhood education is as strong as its commitment to elementary and secondary education and to college education.

As we prepare our children for the new economy, we must make sure the economy lets them fulfill their American dream. The reality today is that the free market is not truly free. Not all Americans can fully share in its prosperity. We need an economy that values work fairly, that puts the needs of families ahead of excessive profits—an economy whose goal is growth with full employment and good jobs with good benefits for all.

To create good jobs for both today's and tomorrow's economy, the private and public sectors must work together toward specific goals. . . .

— Senator Ted Kennedy


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