Elementary and Secondary (K-12) Education
As a former school board president, I believe moms and dads are their children’s first teacher. Parents, educators, employers and the local community must work together to ensure all children develop the skills they need to become the successful leaders of tomorrow.
Since 2005, I have sponsored a summer reading program to encourage children to read age-appropriate books over the summer. Studies have shown that children who read over the summer are more likely to keep their skills sharp from one school year to the next. Summer reading also promotes a lifelong love of learning while also exposing children to material they may not read during the school year. My summer reading program has reached over 100,000 children throughout the 18th Congressional district.
I believe it is crucial to showcase the dynamics of leadership and the importance of leadership skills to our young people. Since 2010, I have hosted a Leadership Summit for high school juniors and seniors in the 18th Congressional District. At the leadership summit, the students are given the opportunity to hear from and ask questions of leaders in our communities including “Jimmy” John Liautaud, the owner and founder of Jimmy John’s sandwich franchises, and Scott Altman, a NASA Commander and veteran of four space flights.
Aaron reading to students as the close of his summer reading program
As the Co-Chair of the Congressional Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) Caucus, it is my desire to promote and support policies that provide for a greater integration of the arts in the classroom. Studies have shown that students who participate in the arts are more likely to engage in creative thinking as they get older. In our increasingly global economy, it is imperative that we give our students the tools to succeed worldwide.
The most pressing K-12 education issue facing the 113th Congress is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the No Child Left Behind law. The law created the laudable goal of ensuring all children are proficient in reading and math by 2014. Unfortunately for every high school senior, American taxpayers have invested more than $100,000 yet only about one third of the students are performing at or above grade level in math and reading. As currently written, the law forces teachers to “teach the test” instead of educating children. I believe good teachers who improve their students’ ability to learn should be rewarded on the basis of their student’s individual progress instead of a student’s test scores. I also support policies which measure a student’s individual educational progress from year to year. I believe students who transferred to new school districts should be enrolled for a full academic year in a given school before that school is responsible for his or her test results.
Unfortunately, childhood obesity is on the rise in our society. Illinois is ranked 4th in the nation for childhood obesity. Students who are overweight or obese are more likely to have medical problems and are at greater risk for developing chronic diseases as adults. Given the obesity epidemic we are experiencing as a nation, I am a supporter of H.R. 1057- the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act which gives resources to schools so they can promote exercise to their students. FIT Kids also provides accountability to parents by ensuring they receive information and support they need to help their children live a healthy lifestyle.
Aaron speaking to a auditorium of high school students in his district
Higher and Continuing Education
Young people and recent college graduates are among the populations most affected by our slow economic recovery. For more than 50 straight months, dating back to October 2008, the youth unemployment rate has remained above 20%- nearly double the national average. These young people are at a disadvantage for lower lifetime earnings than their older peers simply because they are graduating in the worst economic situation since the Great Depression.
I believe it is important that Congress creates an environment where jobs are available for our youth when they graduate. I support policies which promote economic growth in order encourage job creation.
As a member of the tax writing, Ways and Means Committee, I have been a leader in working to overhaul our burdensome tax code. I supported the American Taxpayer Relief Act which permanently extended the tax cuts that were first enacted in 2001. This is tax relief that remains a vital part of our economic recovery and it ensures that millions of middle-class families won’t be adversely impacted by increased tax rates in the new year.
By lowering tax rates for individuals and small businesses we can allow people to keep and invest more of their own money. A simplified tax code will also attract businesses to the U.S., grow our economy and create jobs for the future.
Aaron touring a middle school in his district
Our young people need opportunities to succeed. I support ways to give employers such as Caterpillar an opportunity to work with institutions of higher education. By allowing employers and schools to work together, they can discover the best ways to prepare students to succeed in the workplace.
Not only are these people struggling to find jobs but in many cases are also working to pay off student loan debt they accrued while still in school. In 2012, student loan debt exceeded $1 trillion for the first time. In the 112th Congress, I supported legislation that maintained the 3.4% interest rate for new, subsidized Stafford student loans for an additional year. Extending the current rates through June 30, 2013 gives Congress the opportunity to work toward a long-term solution to the interest rate problem in a manner that serves the best interests of both taxpayers and student borrowers.
For the 2012-2013 school year, the tuition and fees average at public four year institutions was $12,118- a 21% increase over the past 5 years. Given the soaring cost of college tuition, I continue to support policies that help Illinois families cope with the rising cost of higher education. I supported H.R. 3630, legislation maintaining the maximum Pell grant award level of $5,550 for the 2012-2013 school year. I continue to look for ways to make higher education affordable to all students.
Whether a student decides to attend a 2-year community college, a 4-year college or university or a technical or trade school, we must be prepared to offer opportunities for them to succeed. As a member of the Congressional TRIO Caucus, I work with other Members of Congress on ways to help low-income, disabled and first-generation students succeed in college.