The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to help young people with disabilities who have difficulty reading and writing improve their language skills, a key priority for President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The bill is the first of three he aims to pass on his first full legislative day in office.
The Senate voted 54-41 to pass the bill on the eve of the first legislative session of Trump’s presidency.
“The bill is an important step in addressing a longstanding problem for many of our students,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the bill’s main sponsor.
“Our bill is about building on a proven, proven method to assist students who have language impairments in learning.
The legislation provides a pathway to help students who are reading and working to improve their ability to communicate, as well as to help them earn a high school diploma or GED.”
The bill would allow students to use a computer and electronic devices to read, write and read with a speech-language pathologist to help identify and correct errors.
It would also expand the use of a device that helps students read a text to read a word in the middle of a sentence.
The device would be available to high school students, but not high school seniors.
The goal is to get the device to students as early as age six, Nelson said.
“This is not about giving up,” he said.
The measure also would give more money to public school districts to train and equip high school teachers.
The federal government already pays $2.5 billion annually for teachers to train, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Department of Education also provides more than $10 million in grants each year to public schools to provide training in the language arts, and more than a million dollars for technology, Nelson added.
The bill was supported by Sen. Ben Cardin, D, Md., who said he was “encouraged” that “we can help our children and our states.”
Cardin was the lone Democrat to vote against the bill, which he called a “waste of money” that would not address the problem.
“I have long said we need to find solutions to our country’s language problems and not just a patchwork of solutions,” he told the Senate.
“What we’re proposing here is a commonsense way to help our young people.
The language skills and literacy of our young citizens need to be addressed.”
The bill was co-sponsored by Sens.
Ed Markey, D Mass., and Tom Carper, D Del.
The vote came two days after the White House announced that it would invest $1 billion over five years to help states combat a rise in the number of students with language and reading disabilities.
The funding, part of a $10 billion package passed in March, will be used to help schools develop new and innovative language-language and reading interventions.
The White House also announced that a new initiative will help states train high school and college students in language and literacy skills.
The White House has also launched a new campaign to make learning more accessible, including $1.3 billion in federal funding over the next decade to expand the number and diversity of opportunities for students to receive specialized skills.
“We’re working with our educators, our educators and our students to help ensure our young students are able to thrive,” White House press secretary Eric Schultz said Wednesday.