September 8, 2008

Noriega lays out education plan

KELLEY SHANNON / Associated Press

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega on Monday proposed reforming the federal No Child Left Behind Act, expanding pre-kindergarten programs and increasing grants and loans for college students.

Noriega also suggested that Congress help states increase pay for teachers in inner-city and rural areas and in the fields of math and science to keep them from leaving the profession.

"Investing today in our education system will more than pay for itself tomorrow," Noriega stated in his education plan. At a news conference he added, "Our leadership in Washington has failed our kids."

The Houston state legislator is trying to unseat first-term Republican Sen. John Cornyn. He described Cornyn as someone who consistently votes with President Bush and against children's interests in the Senate.

Cornyn's campaign responded by saying that Cornyn has been a leader in education reform.

"He is committed to limiting the government's burdensome role, empowering local schools and teachers with the flexibility and tools to develop tomorrow's leaders," his campaign said in a prepared statement.

Cornyn co-sponsored legislation authorizing more than $30 billion to invest in science, technology, engineering and math research and education programs, his campaign said. It said he introduced a bill to ensure parents are properly notified about their options when their children's schools "aren't making the grade."

Noriega did not give a cost estimate for his proposals.

He said expanding early childhood education such as Head Start and other pre-kindergarten programs would provide a "massive return on our investment."

Noriega noted that Texas ranks the lowest in the nation in the percentage of adults who have at least a high school diploma and that from 2002 to 2006 tuition and fees at public universities increased more than 60 percent.

He said he wants to require any college that accepts federal assistance money to allow students to lock in a flat tuition rate. He proposed increasing the number and size of Pell Grants, the grants for low-income university students, and increasing funding for government-backed student loans.

Cornyn's campaign said he supported legislation that by 2011 will raise the maximum Pell Grant from $4,050 to $6,300 and reduce interest rates on certain federal student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent.

Noriega proposed ending "illogical rules" in the No Child Left Behind Act, a program he said was well-intentioned but hasn't been adequately funded and has created an environment that encourages schools to "game the system."

"Congress needs to demand better oversight in how states and schools report their statistics, and hold leaders accountable for attempts to deceive the system," Noriega said.

Cornyn's spokesman, Kevin McLaughlin, said Cornyn already has introduced legislation to reform No Child Left Behind to reduce regulatory burdens on educators.

Asked by news reporters whether the federal government should reimburse states for educating the children of illegal immigrants, Noriega did not directly answer the question. He said all children must be educated under the law.

Cornyn's spokesman said Cornyn does support such state reimbursement. McLaughlin said Cornyn has sought federal reimbursement for other costs of illegal immigration, like law enforcement and health care.

McLaughlin criticized Noriega for remaining silent.

"He won't fight for Texas communities trying to cope with the federal government's lapses? This represents a bizarre set of priorities," McLaughlin said.

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