Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 9, 2008
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Education



By Mr. FEINGOLD (for himself and Mr. LEAHY):

S. 3457. A bill to reaffirm United States objectives in Ethiopia and encourage critical democratic and humanitarian principles and practices, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, today I am pleased to introduce the Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008. Senator LEAHY joins me as an original cosponsor. The purpose of this bill is to reaffirm policy objectives towards Ethiopia and encourage greater commitment to the underpinnings of a true democracy--an independent judiciary and the rule of law, respect for human and political rights, and an end to restrictions on the media and non-governmental organizations.

As many in this body know, I have spoken numerous times in recent months about the situation in Ethiopia and I continue to believe that the U.S.-Ethiopian partnership is very important--one of the more critical ones given not only our historic relationship but also Ethiopia's location in an increasingly strategic region. Ethiopia sits on the Horn of Africa--perhaps one of the roughest neighborhoods in the world, with Somalia a failed state and safe haven for terrorists, Eritrea an inaccessible authoritarian government that meddles across national borders, Sudan a genocidal regime, and Kenya still emerging from a profound electoral crisis. One look at the deteriorating situation across the Horn and the importance of a robust relationship with Ethiopia is obvious. And, by contrast with some of its neighbors, Ethiopia appears relatively stable with a growing economy. But I am concerned about a number of anti-democratic actions in that country, particularly since this administration has largely overlooked them.

The security threats in Ethiopia are real but, unfortunately, the Bush administration's approach to addressing these threats and strengthening this alliance remains short-sighted and narrow--focusing predominately on short-term ways to address insecurity while overlooking the need for long-term measures that are needed to achieve the same goal, such as desperately needed goverance reform, the rule of law, and increased accountability. Genuine democratic progress in Ethiopia is essential if we are to have a healthy and positive bilateral relationship. It is also essential if we are going to successfully combat extremism, thereby bolstering our own national security here at home.

That is why today I am introducing the Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008--because as our administration fails to balance our priorities in Ethiopia, or to adopt comprehensive strategies to achieve those priorities, we are watching significant backsliding in previously hard-won democratic gains. As we turn a blind eye to the escalating political tensions, people are being thrown in jail without justification and non-government organizations are being restricted, while civilians are dying unnecessarily in the Ogaden region--just like so many before them in Oromiya, Amhara, and Gambella. Furthermore, the Ethiopian military has come under increasing scrutiny for its conduct in the Ogaden as well as Somalia, with credible reports from non-governmental organizations of torture, rape and indiscriminate attacks. By providing unconditioned security assistance we are also sowing the seeds of insecurity and creating new grievances both in Ethiopia and in its neighboring countries.

I want to see greater progress--not less--in Ethiopia which is why this bill authorizes an additional $20 million for democracy and governance projects in Ethiopia. The addition of these funds would make it one of the top five countries on the continent receiving this kind of assistance from this U.S. Government. This bill calls on the President to take additional steps to implement these programs but also requires that funds made available to the Ethiopian government be subject to regular congressional notification. This ensures U.S. taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately--and used to support a government taking steps to become more democratic, not less.

I make it a practice to pay for all bills I introduce, and the authorization in this bill is offset by a transfer of funds from NASA. Some may disagree with me on the need for an offset, but recent Office of Management and Budget projections confirm that we now have the biggest budget deficit in the history of our country. We cannot afford to be fiscally irresponsible so we must make choices to ensure that our children and grandchildren do not bear the burden of our reckless spending. Instead of cutting specific programs, which are likely to have begun and thus would cost more to close, transferring $20 million from the general budget would allow appropriators to evaluate, at their discretion, how best to make this transfer.

I ask my colleagues to consider what our own State Department has said about the political situation in Ethiopia and then consider how best to rectify the situation. The 2007 State Department Report on Human Rights notes that in Ethiopia the following occurred: ``limitation[s] on citizens' right to change their government during the most recent elections; unlawful killings, and beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition or insurgent groups; detention of thousands without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens' privacy rights and frequent refusal to follow the law regarding search warrants; use of excessive force by security services in an internal conflict and counter-insurgency operations; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government; restrictions on freedom of assembly; limitations on freedom of association; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation, FGM; exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and religious and ethnic minorities; and government interference in union activities, including killing and harassment of union leaders.''

The continued failure of the administration to acknowledge this reality is emblematic of its insular thinking and unwillingness to see the big picture. Without a balanced policy that addresses both short and long-term concerns in Ethiopia we are putting ourselves at greater risk and making ourselves more vulnerable, not less.


S. 3459. A bill to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to authorize a connecting education and emerging professions demonstration grant program; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, this week I am introducing a number of different bills designed to fuel job creation and spur economic development. My initiative, dubbed E4, because of its focus on economy, employment, education, and energy, seeks to respond to economic and job development needs both in my State of Wisconsin and around the country. Today I am introducing a bill, the Connecting Education and Emerging Professions Act of 2008, to help promote better collaboration between our Nation's high schools and local, regional, and statewide businesses and workforce development groups.

This legislation seeks to address a couple of interrelated issues. The first issue is the alarmingly high dropout rate in our Nation's high schools. While numbers vary slightly, a growing body of research indicates that the United States has a graduation rate of approximately 70 percent and about one-third of our country's high school students will not graduate on time. Graduation rates for minority and low-income students are even lower, in many cases, alarmingly lower. In addition, many of our Nation's urban school districts report very high dropout rates, including the Milwaukee Public School District. According to the Cities in Crisis report put out earlier this year by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, the Milwaukee Public Schools has a graduation rate of 46.1 percent. Unfortunately, there are at least a dozen large urban districts that have even lower graduation rates than Milwaukee.

One of our top education priorities as a nation must be to address the low graduation rates nationwide in urban, suburban, and rural school districts. We must also work to close the huge opportunity gap that is created by the large disparity in graduation rates between our minority and non-minority students as well as between low income and more affluent students. Solving this problem will require a broad, comprehensive solution involving the Federal, State and local governments. It is my hope that when Congress finally reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we pay particular attention to the needs of our Nation's high schools and our students.

While many factors contribute to high dropout rates, disengagement from classroom instruction can contribute to a student's decision to drop out. Some students feel that high school is not relevant to their lives and do not see how completing high school will translate into future career and academic success. In this increasingly competitive twenty-first century where postsecondary education is now required for many entry-level jobs, it is up to us to show our Nation's students why it is imperative that they graduate from high school.

Another issue that this bill seeks to address is the growing sense among employers and postsecondary institutions that our Nation's high school students who do graduate are increasingly unprepared for success either in the workforce or in college. Employers in various economic sectors, including technology, manufacturing, health care, construction, and others, report difficulty in identifying qualified candidates for skilled positions. Recent surveys also indicate that many employers are dissatisfied with the overall preparation of secondary school graduates. In order for companies in the United States to be competitive in a global economy, we must have a highly skilled workforce. Adequate preparation at the high school level can help prepare students for entry into our rapidly changing global economy where new emerging industries are cropping up in Wisconsin and around the country.

To address these two interrelated issues, I am introducing the Connecting Education and Emerging Professions Act. My bill would provide 5-year competitive education grants to states and school districts to foster collaboration and discussions between schools, businesses, and others about the emerging industry workforce needs and how to prepare our high school students to meet those needs, both academically and practically. States and local school districts must use this money to form partnerships with local or regional businesses, postsecondary institutions, workforce development boards, labor organizations, nonprofit organizations and others.

These partnerships will have the responsibility of surveying the local, regional, and statewide emerging industries and deciding what are the academic and work-based skills that our high school students need in order to be successful in these emerging industries. The partnerships will then work together to develop new and engaging curriculum and programs designed to teach the academic and work-based skills that are necessary to succeed in these new emerging industries. Once the partnership has designed a curriculum or program and received approval from the Federal Department of Education, the partnership will work to implement the program in qualifying schools.

During the implementation phase, the partnership will come together to implement hands-on learning and work opportunities for students including internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing, and other career and technical education programs. These hands-on learning and work opportunities will be based on the emerging industry pathways curriculum or program that the eligible partnership has designed and will offer students practical academic experiences and skill-building lessons that they can use in the workplace or in postsecondary education.

This legislation seeks to help schools, businesses, colleges, and the students who would be served by this legislation all talk with each other to build new programs that would help boost student engagement in learning and student attendance and graduation rates while also preparing students for success in the workforce or in college after they graduate. There are a number of successful local and state programs around Wisconsin that this legislation would help support and that served as valuable examples as I developed this legislation.

Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction, Department of Workforce Development, and various local school districts have all been working to boost Wisconsin's career and technical education offerings and gear these offerings towards emerging industries. My bill seeks to help Wisconsin and other states build on these efforts and engage in additional conversations with interested stakeholders to design new curriculums and programs to prepare students for emerging industries.

I look forward to pushing this legislation forward in the coming weeks and months. Some of our Nation's schools are experiencing high dropout rates in part because students aren't connecting with what they are being taught. At the same time, we're seeing an emergence of new industries, like those aiming to capitalize on alternative energies and energy efficiency, that need employers with skills and training in their field. If we help schools connect their students with businesses, workforce development boards, and colleges that offer career and academic opportunities in these new and exciting fields, we can help to lower the alarming dropout rates while helping these emerging industries thrive.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.