WASHINGTON _ Education is the main focus of this year's congressional session for Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa..
“The real value is in the classroom,” Fattah said in a recent interview.
Fattah wants to build on the success of his federally funded program called the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP. He is proposing several other programs on education.
GEAR UP is designed to help low-income families send their children to college. Through GEAR UP, universities begin working with students as early as the sixth grade to introduce them to education beyond high school, including college and trade schools.
So far, GEAR UP has more than 170 programs across the country and has spent more than $200 million. It has more than 1 million students, with 17,000 of them in Philadelphia.
The GEAR-UP grant of $28 million last year is the second largest Philadelphia has ever received, Fattah said. And he urged the city to seek even more. “I hope the city will apply for a new GEAR-UP grant,” said Fattah.
Also on his agenda is a bill to force states to equally distribute funds to public schools. This bill is called the Equal Protection School Finance Act. Philadelphia is suing Pennsylvania, alleging that school funds are distributed unequally. Similar suites have been filed against Maryland, Ohio and California.
Right now, Fattah said, the state spends about $6,000 on Philadelphia public schools students, but some schools outside of the city are spending up to $15,000. “Students should not be discriminated against because of where they live,” said Fattah.
Another education concern, said Fattah, is getting students to finish college. In Pennsylvania, he said, only 24 percent of students graduate in four years at the 14 state universities. In five years, 30 percent of all students will graduate.
To keep students in college, Fattah is planning legislation to give them grants and scholarships to finish school. The bill is called the William H. Gray College Completion Challenge Grant Act, named for Fattah's predecessor as the representative from the 2nd District. Gray is now the president of the United Negro College Fund. The grant program will be open to all students, while programs like GEAR UP and the school finance bill are focused on low-income families.
“We can't have efforts to get students into college but not keep them in,” said Fattah.
This bill is supported by the Clinton administration. In his budget, President Bill Clinton is asking Congress for $35 million for the grant program.
Also on Fattah's legislative agenda:
–The American Communities Investment Act
This bill will allow states to receive more cash and capital for improving neighborhoods. It will allow cities to borrow more money through the Department of Housing and Development’s community development block grant.
–The American Profit Sharing Act
It would limit federal contracts and subsidies to businesses that share their profits with employees. The profit sharing can be in stocks, bonds or cash and be paid immediately or held until retirement.
–The American Consumer Protection Act
It would forbid store-owners to require consumers to credit cards instead of cash.
–The Reward Attendance with Summer Employment Act (RAISE)
It would reward students who go to school regularly by giving them preference in federally funded summer jobs.
About the presidential election, Fattah has decided to support Vice President Al Gore in the Democratic race. He supports Gore, Fattah said, for Gore's commitment to education programs.
For his own re-election, Fattah is running unopposed. “It's a God-send,” he said, “because I can concentrate on my work.”