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Harkin's Wish List: Workforce Investment, Pre-K, & Maybe ESEA

Washington

Before he retires this year from Congress, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, the Senate education committee chairman, has a Top Three list of things he wants to accomplish. Raise the minimum wage. Reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act. And expand and improve the quality of early-childhood education.

"I really want to get it done," the Iowa Democrat said of his preschool expansion legislation that is part of a push by President Barack Obama to improve the economy by getting more children ready to learn. In a wide-ranging Q-and-A session Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Harkin said he wants a hearing and a markup of the early-childhood bill "sometime soon." (House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., has announed a Feb. 5 hearing on early education.) 

Close to making Harkin's pre-retirement tops list? A reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. "We're going to try to see if we can get that done," Harkin said in the briefing. His remarks come a day after Obama's State of the Union speech, in which the president made no mention of the long-overdue ESEA.

And, in case you were wondering, Harkin is definitely opposed to the recent proposals Republicans are pushing to expand school choice.

"If it's a voucher program that dilutes resources to public schools I just think that's going in the wrong direction," Harkin said. "I just can't see that as going anywhere." 

What's more, he likened the voucher debate to one over the promise of charter schools. "It's just like people had all these hopes for charter schools. Charter schools have not turned out to the be-all, end-all."

He said the best way to accomplish the goal of vouchers—which is ultimately to improve student achievement—is to expand high-quality early-education and "fix" Title I. He specifically said he wants to ensure that more federal Title I dollars are going to the neediest schools.

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