06.14.21

Helping Our Students Get a Great Education

Hi Folks -

I think it’s just about the favorite time of year for every school-aged kid in our region and across the country – the beginning of summer! And for so many, graduation!!!

There is no doubt that this pandemic has undeniably turned things upside-down for educators, students, and families.

As the son of two retired public-school teachers and as the dad of two kids in public school, I recognize that this year has been challenging for everyone. I’ve spoken with educators who have gone above and beyond the call of duty – in some instances getting back to in-person instruction, in others to support remote instruction, and in all cases, to connect with their students under really challenging circumstances. I’ve also had conversations with families about just how difficult this past year has been. I’ve heard from parents about the impacts on the educational, social, and emotional development of their kids. What’s more, parents have dealt with the challenge of managing their work obligations and obligations to their kids.

I can say personally that it’s been challenging for the Kilmer family too (not to mention the fact that I’ve realized I’m really not as good at teaching math as my kids’ teachers)!!

Earlier this month, I was able to visit Port Angeles School District (and the building where my dad worked!) to hear firsthand how it’s been going as districts across our region get kids back to school safely, address lost learning time, and support student mental health.

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More than 90% of Washington state students began the 2020-2021 school year learning remotely. While each state and each school district is making its own decision regarding re-opening plans (including remote or hybrid models), in my view, the job of the federal government is to ensure that school districts have the resources necessary to keep kids safe and ensure they can continue to learn. 

That’s why I supported the passage of the American Rescue Plan, which includes nearly $130 billion to help K-12 schools to reopen safety. This funding includes investments in repairing ventilation systems, reducing class sizes and implementing social distancing guidelines, purchasing personal protective equipment, and hiring support staff to care for students’ health and well-being. The bill also includes critical funding to address learning loss – funding that can be used for after school programs, summer school, and other resources to support our kids.

I appreciated the opportunity to join Tacoma Schools Superintendent Carla Santorno for a visit to Stadium High School in Tacoma to see firsthand how these investments are supporting the needs of students, teachers, and staff. I got to visit with Principal Shannon Marshall (who I went to high school with!) and take a tour of the school, visiting several classes and getting to see students being students; interacting safely with their peers, working together on projects, and counting down the days until the end of the school year.

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The American Rescue Plan also includes $39 billion through the Child Care and Development Block Grant for child care providers and early childhood education as well as funding for Head Start, which will be used to maintain access to services for children and families.

The American Rescue Plan also included funding for summer programs and after school programs. Earlier this month, I was able to visit one of the great providers of those programs – the Boys and Girls Club of the Olympic Peninsula. They have an amazing new facility in Port Angeles, and I was excited to check-out the new full-sized gym, commercial kitchen, computer lab, library, game room, and teen center (opening soon). It’s a space that seems to have everything to meet the needs of youth in our community! 

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Beyond that, the American Rescue Plan includes funding for dramatically increasing the production of and distribution of vaccines as well as funding for ramping up COVID-19 testing in support of the goal of getting schools re-opened. I support these measures as important steps for keeping people from getting this virus.

Importantly, we know that this pandemic hasn’t just affected our K-12 students, but our college and university students as well. That’s why the American Rescue Plan included $40 billion in the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. These investments will not only provide students with critical relief so they can continue to earn an education, but also help ensure our higher education institutions can continue to prepare the workforce of tomorrow. And, at least half of the funding each institution receives will be distributed in the form of emergency cash assistance grants to students who are facing hunger, homelessness, and other hardship.

I visited (virtually) with the awesome team at Grays Harbor College to hear how those funds were getting put right to use to help students and faculty. I also got a cool briefing on their innovative automotive program, which is cranking out high skilled mechanics and getting them employed in the community!

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Perhaps one of the highlights of the last few weeks was the opportunity to say CONGRATULATIONS to the graduates of Bates Technical College in Tacoma.  As their graduation speaker, I got to commend them for their resilience in making it through the last year and wish them well in their next adventure. I also got to talk about some of the lessons learned from streaming TV shows. I think it’s a graduation message that applies to many graduates in our region after the last 15 months - take a listen!

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Supporting STEM Education

Speaking of education... Making investments in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education will help ALL our students prepare for the jobs of the future. Last month, Congress passed bipartisan legislation I supported to support STEM education, promote rural STEM education research, and increase diversity in STEM.

We know that in our region and across the country, teachers at rural schools often lack the resources necessary to provide students with hands-on STEM learning opportunities. Furthermore, a lack of access to rural broadband and technology at home can limit rural students’ ability to learn the technology and computer skills needed to succeed at school and ultimately pursue STEM jobs. That’s why Congress passed the Rural STEM Education Research Act to help address these inequities by directing the National Science Foundation to research ways to improve STEM education in rural communities. This bill would also create regional partnerships between universities, local industries, and schools to provide Pre-K-through-12 students with more hands-on research experiences and encourage more rural students to enter into STEM-related fields.

In addition, Congress passed the bipartisan STEM Opportunities Act to help keep America a global leader in science and technology innovation by identifying and lowering barriers facing underrepresented minorities in STEM educational programs and professions.

I’ll keep working to support investments in STEM education. Doing so can lead to more job opportunities for our young people in the future, more qualified employees for local employers, and more economic resiliency for our communities.

Celebrating Our Talented Young People

We have immensely talented young students across the region—including Sandie de Moura, the winner of the 2021 Congressional Art Competition for Washington’s Sixth Congressional District. Each year, this competition provides our students with an opportunity to showcase their artistic abilities – and earn a chance to win a trip to our nation’s capital. I’m thrilled that so many young people from every corner of our region could participate this year. Their submissions were absolutely outstanding!

Meet Sandie, who attends Bremerton High School, and hear about the inspiration behind their winning piece: Self-Love.

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“Self-Love” by Sandie de Moura

Working for You

Answering Your Questions

I enjoyed the lively conversation with the Bainbridge Island Oatmeal Club last week! Although we weren't enjoying a delicious bowl of oatmeal in person together, it was great to see so many familiar faces and talk about the work I'm doing to get our economy and our government working better for folks in our region. Thanks for having me!

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Celebrating Incredible Young Leaders

One of my favorite nights of the year is when we celebrate the remarkable people who are making a massive impact in Kitsap County. Congratulations to all of the exceptional individuals who were selected as the 20 Under 40 Class of 2021! The future of our region is bright!!!

Read more about the incredible emerging civic and business leaders on the Kitsap Peninsula here.

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Working to Create More Affordable Housing

Last week, I had a chance to meet April Black, incoming Interim Executive Director of the Tacoma Housing Authority. I had a chance to share my legislative work in the housing space - including recently securing key provisions in the American Rescue Plan and introducing new legislation to increase affordable housing production - and to learn how Congress can be a better partner in this work.

I want to also express my sincere and deep gratitude to Michael Mirra for his 17 years of service, striving to maintain THA as a premier housing authority that ranks among the finest in the country. Thank you for all you do!

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OK – that’s it for now folks!

As always, I’m honored to represent you.

Sincerely,

Derek