Issue Position: Education

Issue Position

Date: Jan. 1, 2014
Issues: Education

Maria has championed efforts to ensure that every American has the opportunity to receive a quality education and gain the skills needed to compete and seize job opportunities in the 21st century economy. With the help of Pell Grants, Maria became the first member of her family to graduate from college. She has consistently worked to open the doors to higher education, making college more affordable by expanding Pell Grants and supporting tax credits that help families offset the cost of college. Maria has fought to bolster Washington's K-12 schools and teachers by improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs that provide students with key math and science skills.


With her background working in Seattle's technology sector, Maria has been a leading voice in the U.S. Senate working to expand educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Washington state ranks first in the nation in the concentration of STEM-related jobs -- and job demand is growing. By 2018 the state will need to fill nearly 300,000 STEM-related jobs, according to a study conducted by Georgetown University. Nationwide, demand for scientists and engineers is expected to increase at four times the rate of any other job sector. Maria is working to strengthen science, technology, engineering, and mathematics initiatives -- preparing American students to fill high-tech jobs and remain leaders of innovation.

Supporting STEM Education: In 2007 Maria cosponsored and helped pass the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science (COMPETES) Act, which invested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs for American students and bolstered research in these fields. Maria also cosponsored a bill that extended and strengthened the COMPETES Act in 2010.

"It is crucial that we step up our investment in education and innovation to maintain a 21st century workforce that is competitive in the global economy," Maria said, following the passage of the America COMPETES Act in 2010. "The Senate today unanimously committed to ensuring that our children will receive a world-class education in science, technology, engineering, and math here in America."

In early 2011 Maria toured science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs throughout Washington state, meeting with Washington education officials, students and workforce representatives in Vancouver, the Tri-Cities and Toppenish to learn about the successes and challenges of Washington state's STEM education.

"I call STEM the "gateway into the future,'" said Heritage High School student Aloren Martin in January 2011, when Maria visited Vancouver to hear about the local impact of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) partnerships in Southwest Washington.

Engaging More Students in Math & Science: In her first two years in the Senate Maria cosponsored bipartisan legislation to create the Math and Science Partnership, which increases collaboration between local governments, leading industry professionals, institutions of higher education, and K-12 faculty to work together on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education (S.1262). The Math and Science Partnership helps to build comprehensive math and science programs, bolster training for STEM teachers and improve student achievement.

Nationwide, the partnership includes 900 K--12 school districts, reaching up to 5 million students across the country, 147,000 K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers, and more than 200 higher education institutions that collaborate with K-12 schools. Maria has also helped pass provisions, both in 2007 and in 2009, to extend the program.

In Washington state, the Math and Science Partnership has invested in programs like the North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership in Northwest Washington, which has helped link county colleges with 28 predominantly rural schools to support teachers and develop math and science curriculum. This partnership has enabled 150 trained teachers to improve math and science proficiency and skills for Washington students.

Find out more about the Math and Science Partnership in Washington state.


Maria is working to improve access to college education and ensure that Washingtonians have the skills needed for the job market. She has worked to ensure that higher education remains affordable for all Americans, helping to pass legislation that extends Pell Grants, supporting tax credits that help families afford school expenses, and expanding opportunities for Washingtonians to get the education and skills training needed to transition to new jobs.

Between 2008 and 2018, Washington state will have more than 650,000 job openings that require postsecondary education degrees, according to a study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. By 2018, 67 percent of all jobs in Washington will require some postsecondary education, the fifth highest percentage in the nation.

Expanding Access to College: As Maria says, "No one should be forced to mortgage their future to pay for their education." With the help of Pell Grants, Maria became the first member of her family to graduate from college. She has continually championed efforts to make college affordable for future generations by expanding Perkins Loans and Pell Grants. She recently urged President Obama to maintain robust support for Pell Grant awards, and she fought to block Bush Administration cuts to Pell Grants that could have made college education unattainable for millions of students.

To ensure that Washington families could afford to keep up with soaring tuition costs, Maria helped pass the College Cost Reduction Act into law in 2007 (H.R.2669). The law improved the Pell Grant program by increasing the maximum grant to $5,400 by 2012. The law also helped Pell Grant recipients going into public service careers to pay back loans.

In 2010, 134,000 Washington students received Pell Grants; nationwide, Pell Grants help to make higher education possible for more than eight million students each year.

Keeping College Affordable: In 2009 Maria voted to create the American Opportunity Tax Credit, providing up to $2,500 per year to help families afford college. The credit is available for a full four years of postsecondary education, helping students with expenses for textbooks and improving college savings accounts to include purchases of computer technology equipment. In 2011, an estimated 171,000 Washingtonians claimed the American Opportunity Tax Credit, with an average tax break of $2,000. In 2010 Maria helped extend this tax credit for two more years (P.L. 111-312).

Increasing Access to Higher Education

Fighting to Expand Higher Education Opportunities: Maria has supported efforts to give individuals who were brought to this country as children the chance to give back to the American communities in which they were raised. Maria is a cosponsor of the bipartisan Development Relief and Education for Minors Act (DREAM Act), which would allow students brought to the country as minors the opportunity to pursue higher education (S.952). The DREAM Act would give young individuals -- who have graduated from high school and stayed out of trouble -- the opportunity to earn conditional legal status, attend college, serve in the Armed Forces, and contribute to the economy.

Maria said: "The DREAM Act is a sound starting place toward comprehensive immigration reform that works to strengthen America's economy, knowledge base and our Armed Forces."

Strengthening Education for Washington Tribes: Maria has worked to bolster educational institutions in Indian Country by improving access to quality education, promoting self-governance and supporting the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. Expanding educational opportunities for Washington tribes fosters job growth in tribal communities and helps build a dynamic state economy.

Read more about Maria's efforts to enhance education in Indian Country.


Maria has worked to strengthen Washington schools -- ensuring that teachers have the support and training they need to deliver a quality education to Washington students.

Maria has led on legislation that helps keep school communities safe, and she has helped to pass legislation to improve nutrition in schools -- providing students with healthy learning environments in which they can thrive.

Maria has also championed legislation, which she fought to extend in multiple Congresses, that provides vital support for schools in rural counties and forest-dependent communities in Washington state.
Providing Better and Safer Schools for Washington Students

Improving Washington Graduation Rates: Maria has worked to strengthen and expand programs that provide Washington students with the opportunity to learn in safe environments and support students staying in school. In 2009 Maria urged her colleagues to increase support for the Communities in Schools program, which helps to reduce the dropout rate by offering one-on-one mentorship programs for students, after-school tutoring, family assistance, and out-of-school enrichment opportunities. Nationwide, Communities in Schools helped 98 percent of students considered "potential dropouts" to stay in school during the 2009-2010 school year.

In Washington, the program serves more than 46,000 students each year at 170 schools in Spokane County, Seattle, Tacoma, Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, Lakewood, Puyallup, Renton, Orting, Key Peninsula, and Whatcom County.

Find out more about Communities in Schools in Washington state.

Keeping Students Safe: Maria has worked to improve school safety, by bolstering school security and combating bullying and harassment. In 2011 Maria introduced the bipartisan Safe Schools Improvement Act, which she also cosponsored in the previous Congress (S.506; S.3739). The Safe Schools Improvement Act would help prevent bullying in schools, working with schools to adopt anti-bullying codes of conduct that protect students.

Maria is a longtime supporter of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, leading Senate efforts to ensure the program has the necessary support. COPS gives law enforcement agencies the resources they need to keep schools and communities safe, including through the Secure Our Schools program. In 2011, Spokane County was awarded a Secure Our Schools grant to bring together law enforcement with school administrators in an effort to bolster security within the county's schools. In previous years, the COPS Secure Our Schools program supported collaboration between schools and law enforcement in Pierce County, Federal Way, Tukwila, and other municipalities.

Read more about Maria's work to improve public safety in Washington.

Improving Child Nutrition in Schools: Maria worked to pass a 2008 provision in the Farm Bill that expanded the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program from 14 states to the entire country. This program brings local fruit and vegetables into schools to improve students' nutrition and health. The provision helped Washington state expand the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program from 25 schools to more than 100 schools serving more than 50,000 students.

Supporting Washington Teachers

Improving Training for Quality Math and Science Teachers: In 2007 Maria cosponsored and helped pass the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act, which strengthens math, science, technology, and energy education in Washington state and nationwide. Improving education in these areas is essential for preparing Washington students to succeed in the growing high-tech economy. Maria cosponsored a bill that extended and strengthened the COMPETES Act in 2010.

America COMPETES implemented the National Science Foundation Teaching Fellowship, which ensures that educators have the training and resources they need to teach crucial math and science skills. For example, in Washington, the National Science Foundation supports the "Global Change in a Local Context" project, a collaboration between Washington State University Vancouver and science teachers in four Clark County school districts. "Global Change in a Local Context" focuses on local science issues in the Columbia Watershed, developing a hands-on, science-based curriculum for 6th through 9th grade Southwest Washington students.

Preserving Essential Teacher Jobs: When Washington state faced a $2.8 billion budget shortfall in 2010, Maria fought to prevent potential teacher layoffs due to across-the-board cuts. Maria worked with Senator Patty Murray to pass an amendment ensuring that states had the resources to maintain teaching jobs during difficult economic times. Without this amendment, schools may have had to cut back on essential school services, including cutting school bus drivers and food service workers.

Maintaining Strong Schools in Rural Washington

Supporting Schools and Jobs in Forest-Dependent Counties: Maria has successfully fought to extend the Secure Rural Schools program, which bolsters rural counties that have suffered from diminished timber harvest levels on federal lands.

In the 1990s, declining timber harvests began to threaten the stability of hundreds of forest communities across the country. These communities had long relied on timber as a major source of local revenue. To prevent job losses and keep timber counties from losing vital funds for schools, roads and basic services, Maria worked with her colleagues to negotiate a multi-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program in 2008. Since 2008, the program -- which represents 11,000 jobs in rural counties nationwide -- has helped to generate $188 million in realized tax revenue.

In 2011, 27 Washington counties used Secure Rural Schools to maintain strong schools in forest communities.

"Without Senator Cantwell's hard work, timber counties would have faced steeper cuts in critical programs and painful job losses," said Paul Pearce, Skamania County Commissioner and Representative for the Washington Timber Counties. "Senator Cantwell has been an ardent supporter of our rural counties and schools, which have been doubly impacted by loss of industry and the recession."

Read more on Maria's efforts to support Washington forest communities and rural schools.

Strengthening School Disticts that Host Federal Lands: Maria has cosponsored bills to prevent local taxpayers and local school districts from bearing the tax burden of nearby federal lands. In both 2007 and 2008 Maria spearheaded efforts to fully fund the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, which ensures that Washington communities with high concentrations of federal land -- like Whatcom County, Okanogan County and Chelan County -- have the resources needed to maintain and improve schools, and provide a quality education for Washington students.

In 2011, the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program supported 38 counties across Washington state, helping local communities to support schools, roads and first responders.


Early Childhood Learning: Maria is a long-time champion of early childhood education programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start, voting to support the programs' reauthorization and expansion.

"If we want to keep our economy competitive and ensure a bright future for the next generation of leaders, we must begin early and make sure that our children are ready to learn," Maria said, following her vote for the Head Start for School Readiness Act, which reauthorized the early childhood education program.

In September 2011, Maria joined with Senator Patty Murray in encouraging the Department of Education to award Washington with a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Fund grant to help invest in early childhood learning. The grant, which the Obama Administration awarded in December, will provide up to $60 million over the next four years for Washington state. This funding will increase access to early learning programs for children from low-income families, improve the quality and scope of Washington state's early childhood education, and invest in workforce training to support the state's early childhood education workforce.

"This investment will help create greater opportunity for children across Washington state," Maria said. "This award is a reflection of the hard work of Washington state teachers and education leaders."

Find about more about the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge.

Improving Reading Skills for Washington Children: Maria has supported literacy programs like the Reading Is Fundamental Program, which partners non-profits, corporations and schools to provide books to more than 4 million children per year. In 2008 Maria and a small group of her colleagues successfully urged the Senate to expand support for this crucial literacy program. Reading Is Fundamental improves reading skills and educational outcomes for children and closes achievement gaps to ensure that all children -- regardless of race or family income -- can learn advanced reading skills at a young age. In 2010 Reading Is Fundamental's 209 program sites in Washington state served more than 60,000 children and distributed more than 225,000 books statewide.

Read more about Reading Is Fundamental in Washington state.

Maria has also promoted childhood literacy through programs like Reach Out and Read, which has 132 programs that served more than 80,000 children in Washington state in 2011. Maria co-sponsored the Prescribe a Book Act, which would create a public-private partnership to boost early learning. The Prescribe a Book Act would promote early childhood literacy by partnering with pediatricians to help parents develop language and literacy skills in Washington children who are at the greatest-risk of falling behind before they even reach school age.


Washington's dynamic, highly-skilled workforce includes the second highest concentration of aerospace engineers in the country, approximately 380,000 technology-based jobs, and a leading export economy.

Maria is a Senate leader on enhancing workforce training programs that provide Washingtonians with the skills needed to fill jobs in growing industries from aerospace to technology to health care. She has repeatedly fought to extend the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which helps the Washington workforce gain key skills for new jobs. She has worked hand-in-hand with local leaders in Washington to identify skills gaps and ensure that Washington workers have access to the training and education they need to fill high-demand jobs. And in 2011, Maria recently held a Senate Aviation Subcommittee field hearing in Seattle to examine strategies to fill 21,000 expected aerospace job vacancies in the next ten years.
Job Training for Washington Workers

Investing in 21st Century Job Skills: Maria is leading efforts to expand investment in job training programs that match workers with the skills needed to fill 21st century jobs. Currently, Washington state faces a shortage of skilled workers: In late 2009 and early 2010, one in four Washington companies seeking to hire new workers had trouble finding skilled applicants to fill jobs, according to a study conducted by America's Edge.

To close this gap in job skills and to put Washingtonians back to work, Maria has fought to extend the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which provides critical job training and support to prepare youth, current workers and displaced workers with the skills needed by high-demand occupations. Maria has fought against proposed cuts to WIA and has been a consistent advocate for workforce development training in industries including clean energy technology, health care information-technology and aerospace training.

Nationwide, more than eight million youth and adults received critical training and related services from workforce investment programs in 2009, and Workforce Investment Act-supported programs helped 4.3 million Americans find jobs.

In 2010 Workforce Investment Act-funded programs served more than 350,000 Washingtonians. Nearly 12,000 Washingtonians looking for work received critical skills training from Workforce Investment Act programs. During the same time period Washington's 12 Workforce Development Councils, which serve local communities across the state, helped 78 percent of jobseekers seeking help to find jobs.

Read more about the Workforce Investment Act in Washington.

In Washington state, Workforce Investment Act programs are led by the state's Workforce Development Councils, which are helping to prepare Washington youth with high-tech career skills and spur interest in science and math amongst Washington students like Aloren Martin. As a senior at Heritage High School in Vancouver, Aloren interned at a local biochemistry laboratory, gaining valuable first-hand career skills that led her to pursue a college degree in chemistry.

Maria recently urged President Obama to restore strong support for Workforce Investment Act programs. In June 2011 Maria joined a small group of her colleagues in calling on key Senate appropriators to fully fund and support Workforce Investment Act programs. Maria also met in 2011 with local advocates at South Seattle Community College to address the importance of job training in Washington state.

Joining with Puget Sound business leaders to call for Workforce Investment Act support, Maria said, "Workforce development is a smart investment for our economy. The Workforce Investment Act helps thousands of businesses find the skilled workforce they need, and these job training programs help equip thousands of Washington state workers with in-demand skills for 21st century jobs."

Training the Next Generation of Aerospace Workers

Washington is home to more than 650 aerospace companies, which employ more than 90,000 workers representing 17 percent of all U.S. aerospace workers. As Chair of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, Maria has championed efforts to expand aerospace workforce training, ensuring that Washington workers have the skills needed to fill jobs in Washington's thriving aerospace economy.

Building Generations of Skilled Aviation Workers in Washington: Over the next decade, Washington state faces 21,000 aerospace job openings, due to a "perfect storm" of increased demand, impending retirements and new technology. Filling this skills gap is crucial to maintaining American aerospace competitiveness, and to Washington state's economy.

Maria has spearheaded efforts to fill Washington's aerospace job skills gap by boosting investment in education and training programs. In October 2011, Maria chaired a U.S. Senate Aviation Committee field hearing in Seattle and held roundtables around the state in 2011 to tackle the current and future job skills gap. Maria convened labor, educational, industry, and government leaders, and challenged them to think outside of the box in developing strategies to put more Washingtonians to work in aerospace.

"This is a pivotal point for the competitiveness of America's aerospace industry," Maria said. "We need to make the right decisions today to create aerospace jobs now -- and for our children.

"Time is running short. More than 50 percent of the workforce in aerospace and manufacturing are nearing retirement, adding real urgency on efforts to prepare the next generation," the Seattle Times wrote in a 2011 editorial. "Cantwell rightly challenges the aerospace industry and education and workforce-training institutions to start preparing for the future."

In May 2011, Maria joined with Senator Patty Murray in urging Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to support a grant to boost aerospace training efforts at Washington state community colleges. The grant, announced in October 2011, is providing 14 Washington state community and technical colleges the resources needed to train 2,600 workers for aerospace jobs and expand the capacity of Washington community colleges to train the future aerospace workforce.

Maintaining the Northwest as the Hub of Aerospace Skills: As Chair of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, Maria has led efforts to improve aerospace workforce training and ensure that Washington remains a 21st century hub for the commercial aviation industry. In 2003 Maria championed legislation that created the Federal Aviation Administration Center of Excellence for Advanced Materials in Transport Aircraft Structures (AMTAS), which partners academic institutions, local industry leaders and government agencies on research, education and workforce training programs. Maria played a key role in supporting the University of Washington's efforts to lead the center.

The Federal Aviation Administration Center of Excellence for Advanced Materials in Transport Aircraft Structures (AMTAS) supports the aerospace industry's research in the use of advanced aviation materials, such as composites and aluminum alloys, for use in civilian transport aircrafts. Innovative research conducted by AMTAS students and scientists helped address safety and certification issues for building aircrafts with composite materials. These findings allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to quickly certify the new 787 Dreamliner.

Expanding Access to Education for Veterans

Maria has worked to provide Washington's 632,000 veterans with access to the education and skills training they need to re-enter and excel in the workforce.

Improved Education for Veterans:. Maria has long fought to strengthen the Montgomery GI Bill -- introducing legislation and speaking before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on the need to invest in education and training for veterans.

Maria cosponsored and helped pass the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007, which was signed into law in June 2008. Dubbed the "21st Century GI Bill," this law significantly expanded support for veterans education, opening doors for veterans to attend a wide range of continuing education schools including community and vocational colleges.