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Job creation remains a challenge as our economy continues to recover, and it is still my highest priority in Congress. We’ve debated several jobs bills in the Senate in recent weeks, most of which were blocked from a final vote. But last week, the Senate finally passed a bill that I hope we can all get behind — a bill that would help put veterans to work. Passing this bill was a meaningful way to honor our veterans.

Millions of Americans are struggling and having to cut back in this difficult economy. This is disproportionately true for our nation’s veterans, who suffer from a higher rate of unemployment—over 12%—than the rest of the country. This is unacceptable. Veterans have highly valuable skills, training, and experience that they developed while serving our country—the same abilities many businesses are seeking as they expand and rebuild in our economy. That is why I’m glad we passed legislation that offers tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans. I discuss how this bill is an excellent opportunity to honor our veterans in a Veterans Day statement available online.

But as we continue taking steps to tackle the short-term problems of our economy, we must also plan for the future. That means doing everything we can to develop the workforce needed for 21st century jobs. We will not achieve long-term economic prosperity and stability as a nation if we fail to address systemic problems in our schools and classrooms.

The Senate recently took a step forward in an effort to raise the quality of education in our nation’s public schools when the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which I am a member, voted on a bill that would update a critical federal education law.

First passed in 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) helped states fund primary and secondary education. Many people know ESEA by its most recent name: the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which passed Congress in 2001. NCLB was intended to increase the quality of public education while closing the achievement gaps between students in wealthy districts and students in impoverished districts, and in some ways, NCLB made significant progress toward these goals. But there are many ways in which NCLB did not work, and even hindered improvement in public education by placing a significant burden on local school districts without providing enough support to meet strict and arbitrary standards.

Just a few weeks ago, those of us who sit on the Education Committee approved a new, bipartisan version of NCLB that includes reforms essential to public education’s success in New Mexico. The bill is not perfect, but it is a significant improvement that will bring meaningful change to our students, teachers, schools, and classrooms.

The proposed bill includes several provisions I wrote that are essential for New Mexico and this country’s students to remain competitive. Three key elements I worked to include are:

The ATTAIN Act, which would ensure that already-existing technology programs would receive funding through competitive and formula grants. Technology is the most cost-effective way to implement, evaluate, and strengthen learning resources, so even in these times of budget crises, we must continue to support technology in the classroom so students learn to navigate future job markets dominated by technology. Many students already lead digital lives in every aspect except at school—we must change that so students do not have to take a step back to learn.

The Graduation Promise Act, a bill I authored, focuses federal resources on the nation’s “dropout factories,” high schools with a graduation rates below 60 percent. Dropout factories are failing our students, so we must also commit to their success by implementing effective, research-based reforms through competitive grants to meet the specific needs of these schools. New Mexico is home to more than 40 dropout factories. Provisions to improve high school graduation rates, which were adopted by the Committee at my urging, would help our students graduate and move onto the workforce or college.

The Advanced Programs Act, which would continue helping low-income students cover the cost of Advanced Placement (AP) test fees and help schools expand professional development for AP teachers. Before I wrote this program into law ten years ago, the number of AP exams taken by low-income students was 82,000; by 2010 that number had risen to 500,000, in large part due to federal investment in these students and teachers. Tough economic times are especially hard on low-income individuals, and I believe as we tighten budgets we must not further handicap students who are clearly capable of high achievement.

These are just three ways in which NCLB will help fix the existing law, but the committee’s work also includes state-designed systems to help schools track students’ progress, eliminates “teach to the test” sanctions and “adequate yearly progress” requirements that often hinder progress in struggling schools, and focuses the federal government’s role on the things it does best while allowing states and districts the flexibility they need to address the needs of their students and schools. You can read more about the NCLB reauthorization on my website.

The next step for the bill is a full debate on the Senate floor, which has not yet been scheduled. I look forward to continuing to work on this bill to ensure that it will help New Mexico’s effort to improve its schools.


Jeff Bingaman
United States Senator