As the son of a teacher, the importance of a quality education was ingrained in me. Sound education is elemental to the strength of our nation. State and local control in matters of education, ensuring students have access to quality nutrition to fuel their minds and proper rural school resources are critical to ensuring that students getting back to school have the right foundation for success.
Students, parents, teachers and state and local public school officials best understand how to improve student performance in local schools, and they must have control over education decision making to ensure the most effective learning environment for students. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act put needed focus on improving education. However, I do not support the federal control over local and state decision making created by NCLB, which is moving our nation toward the U.S. government becoming a national school board. I worked with local educators to develop the bipartisan Enhancing Flexibility for Effective Schools (EFES) Act, which I introduced for the third Congress in a row, to return decision making to the states and local school districts. EFES provides increased flexibility for states and local school districts to use assessment models for measuring student progress, more flexibility in the assessment of students with disabilities, alternative assessments for Limited English Proficiency and changes sanction requirements for schools in need of improvement. It is essential that the flexibility and autonomy provided in the EFES Act is incorporated into legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that is overdue for consideration in Congress.
Sound nutrition is also fundamental to a quality education. A healthy diet energizes students and helps them stay focused. The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), which is part of the Farm Bill and was expanded to every state through the 2008 Farm Bill, provides nourishment to students by providing fresh fruit and vegetable snacks and helps educate students about healthy eating choices. This program benefits both students and farmers who grow the high-quality produce. Additionally, in an effort to extend child nutrition programs before they are set to expire at the end of September, the U.S. Senate recently passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This legislation would connect more children with school meals and healthy local produce through Farm-to-Schools programs, provide a performance-based increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school lunch and expand program access to reduce childhood hunger.
It is also imperative that students in rural Idaho communities have access to first-rate educational opportunities. I have worked to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRSCA), commonly called county payments, because the federal government must pay its fair share of the costs in counties with large federal land holdings. County payments are crucial to maintaining school services in rural communities with large amounts of federal land ownership, and this assistance has helped prevent the elimination of teaching positions and school closures and sustain vital education programs, such as special education, reading and English Language Learners. In Idaho alone, approximately 137,000 school children live in counties that receive SRSCA assistance. I will continue to advocate for the extension of SRSCA so families and communities have the resources necessary to ensure access to quality education.
As students get back to school, focus on local decision making, student access to proper nourishment and ensuring adequate educational resources for all Idaho communities, are key to their educational success. We all want our children to receive the best education possible. I will continue to rely on the guidance of Idahoans and support reasonable, realistic improvements that will benefit Idaho's students.