During a stop through Storm Lake, Thursday, Senator Tom Harkin was a special guest speaker for the Iowa State Education Association's 2008 summer conference held at Buena Vista University.
ISEA serves K-12 schools, community colleges, area education agencies as well as education support workers. Currently ISEA has about 34,000 members in the State of Iowa.
"(Conferences like these) are about getting our leaders together to talk about the important issues with education," says Jean Hessburg, ISEA Public Relations Specialist. Since this is an election year Hessburg says this has been an especially crucial year to let candidates hear from educators issues impacting their schools.
Harkin is a chairman of the Senate Education Appropriations and was a special guest along with Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy. Harkin says talking to educators like those at the conference reminded him of his own teachers and how they influenced and affected his life. "Many of our best goes into teaching," says Harkin. "That says a lot about Iowa."
However, Harkin says he feels there are still holes in the system with low graduation rate for many minority groups across Iowa. Harkin says many schools are also either run down or crowded which initiated him to create Harkin School Grants.
He says he is committed to providing money to help rebuild and modernise school buildings. Since 1998, he says he has provided $127 million to Iowa schools through Harkin Grants for these projects in 295 districts across the state. Buena Vista County alone has received a total of $448,449 in these grants and Storm Lake has received $221,274 of those grants.
Another topic of discussion was the 'No Child Left Behind' law started by President George W. Bush. The law which came about in 2001 reauthorised the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a main federal law which affects the education of Kindergarteners through high schoolers. It became a law in 2002 and was built on four principles including accountability for results, more choices for parents and greater local control and flexibility.
Harkin says he voted for the 'No Child Left Behind' program because he said he felt there were promises made to improve education for all children, however, he said the current administration has broken promises about helping children and teachers. "If we're not going to leave any children behind, we have to make sure we don't leave any teachers behind," Harkin said. Harkin says he feels new presidential administration needs to fund the program better. He says he feels the program should not only help children in math and science but also in the arts as well as socially.
Harkin says the the program has been underfunded by $70 billion dollars and hopes the new Presidential administration will fully fund the program. "I have to ask the President, what part of 'No Child Left Behind,' do you not understand? Harkin says he feels Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain voted against teacher's unions and wants to run schools more like businesses.
"You can't pay attention to what's going on in this country till you pay attention to these kids."