In his speech to America's schoolchildren, President Obama said: "Every single one of you has something that you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is."
This was an inspiring message of empowerment and responsibility. If the President -- and the generations of adults he represents -- can help successfully instill these two values in our children, we can fuel the next generation to greatness.
But adults need to adopt this message too. Indeed, it is our responsibility to make sure all American kids enter school happy and healthy and that schools are the best possible environments for learning.
Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Today, one in six kids grows up living in poverty. In rural America, that number is a shocking one in five. Four year-olds from poor families are 18 months behind other four year-olds developmentally and we can't close that gap even with the highest quality public schools.
Poorer children are in worse health, are read to less by their parents, and their families' unstable finances can lead to traumatic situations like homelessness.
At a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday, we joined House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) to introduce their bill -- the Full-Service Community Schools Act. We were joined by officials of Carlin Springs Elementary School, a full-service community school in Arlington, VA.
Full-service community schools help alleviate the effects of poverty by providing a wide portfolio of services -- beyond just public education -- that they do not get at home. The schools partner with local organizations to provide physical and mental health services, housing and financial support for parents and childhood education services so that the youngest enter the public school system with a solid emotional, social and cognitive foundation for learning.
By transforming schools into centers for wellness and family support, teachers can focus on teaching, full-service coordinators can make sure kids are getting the services they need for a happy and healthy childhood and, what's most important at the end of the day, kids can focus on discovering what they have to offer. Indeed, kids can't do that if they're hungry or if they haven't gotten a good night's sleep because of family financial stress.
Over the past two years, $10 million have been appropriated for 10 full-service community schools across the country. The Full Service Community Schools Act would turn this successful experiment into a reality for many more children by providing $200 million for full-service community schools.
We need innovative solutions and full-service community schools are a brilliant way to reach parents and kids in need. Providing these kinds of services is crucial in low-income, rural areas, where it's more difficult to reach parents and families.
We're urging Congress to act quickly on the Full Service Community Schools Act. This is just the kind of smart, innovative solution Americans want from government and it creates the kind of one-stop center for services that will help make families stronger and help ensure that every kid, from newborns to teens, has a chance to live up to the President's challenge.