Education News

A conversation with U.S. Senator and education champion Bob Casey, Pennsylvania

by Mary Ellen Flannery

Bob Casey, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania since 2007, recently took the time to answer several education related questions from What would you like to see happen in the reauthorization of NCLB?

Senator Casey: As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, I helped to pass legislation out of committee that would revise NCLB. Fixing No Child Left Behind, increasing support for teachers and reversing the trend of budget cuts that lead to less pay and larger class sizes are key. Every day, teachers make sacrifices for the benefit of their students.  Washington must do the same for the good of our country.

These investments will pay dividends for years to come. Last year, the federal Community College and Career Training Grant Program awarded $500 million in grants, including $20 million to a consortium of more than a dozen Pennsylvania community colleges for workforce programs. How do you see Pennsylvania community colleges—and job training programs like these—fitting into the state’s economic recovery?

Senator Casey: Community colleges play an essential role in ensuring Pennsylvanians have the skills needed to succeed and to feed the need of employers looking for a skilled workforce. As unfair trade deals and outsourcing have sent jobs overseas, job training and workforce development is essential to creating more opportunities for Pennsylvanians in good paying jobs. The Chester Upland school district became the face of funding cuts earlier this year, when school administrators announced they couldn’t make payroll and teachers said they’d work for free. But Chester Upland isn’t the only district in PA dealing with deep program cuts and staff layoffs. Meanwhile, funding for higher ed in the state also was cut 13 percent last year. How do you think we can address these issues?

Senator Casey: Families have been hit hard by the recession. Unemployment is still too high and incomes are stagnant. At the same time, college tuition is going up and federal support for financial aid is under constant assault. As a federal official, I am focused on making budget and spending decisions that reduce the debt and that build a better economic future for our country and the people of Pennsylvania.

To ensure continued competitiveness and additional opportunities for all Americans, access to higher education must be expanded, not curtailed. At the federal level I have supported additional resources for education and I supported the student loan fix to avoid an interest rate increase on federal student loans. Reports of bullying have been linked to the suicides of at least two Pennsylvania teenagers over the past few years. You have sponsored by the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would help to prevent bullying. Can you tell us more about why this is such an important issue for you?

Senator Casey: School should be a safe place where students can focus on learning. I introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act to help ensure that every child receives a quality education that builds self-confidence and to help prevent bullying in schools. Earlier this year, you chaired a Senate committee hearing in Bucks County, at which time you highlighted the importance of expanding access to high-quality prekindergarten programs. What do you think those programs look like, and how do they change the lives of their students and the communities that they live in?

Senator Casey: One of my top priorities has been giving children the tools they need to succeed now and in the future. I introduced the Prepare All Kids Act to help states establish pre-k and early childhood education programs so more children can enter kindergarten ready to learn. I also introduced the Supporting State Systems of Early Learning Act that would establish an Early Learning Challenge Fund to help states build and strengthen systems of early learning, so that more low-income children ages zero to five have access to high-quality early learning and development opportunities that prepare them for success in school and beyond. Your first job out of college was teaching. What did you learn then about the work of teachers and the lives of students, and how do those lessons impact your work in Congress now?

Senator Casey: My first job out of college was working as a fifth grade teacher and eighth grade basketball coach in North Philadelphia as part of my service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. And it was the hardest job I’ve ever had. So I have a great appreciation for the work you do. You are on the frontlines with little help from Washington. I value public education and it is one of the reasons I have been such a big advocate for public education and children. Tell us about a teacher or professor or school staff member who made an impact on you.

Senator Casey: As a student, I had many wonderful teachers. Tom Gorman who taught math when I was in grade school and high school had a positive influence on me. As a teacher, the Catholic nuns and the lay teachers with whom I worked had a positive influence on me as well.

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