Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he met with U.S. Department of Education officials regarding their upcoming trip to American Samoa. The meeting was held in Congressman’s Faleomavaega’s Washington DC office on September 8, 2004. Among those attending the meeting were U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, Jeanette J. Lim, Chief Financial Officer Jack Martin, Philip Maestri, Director of the Management Improvement Team, and Mark Robinson, Information Technology Advisor for Financial Improvement and Post Audit Operations.
“The meeting was very positive,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “Assistant Secretary Lim is very sensitive to American Samoa’s needs and is very knowledgeable about the issues confronting us. I was very impressed with her openness and her desire to help our local DOE achieve its goals.”
“In fact, Assistant Secretary Lim informed me that one of the issues that impresses her is that American Samoa is the only insular area that has set standards which our local department of education wants to achieve. These benchmarks are ways to measure success and I commend our local government and DOE for taking this initiative,” the Congressman said.
“The visit being made by USDOE officials is part of their periodic oversight responsibilities. Federal agencies have a responsibility to review how federal funds are being managed and how federal grants and programs are being administered. As part of its scheduled oversights, the USDOE has already visited Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
“As the USDOE prepares to visit American Samoa, I pointed out that their review comes at a time when our Governor has only been recently appointed and when we have a new Director of Education. In fairness to our local government and our local DOE, I believe the USDOE must take these factors into consideration, and the USDOE agrees with me on this point,” Faleomavaega said.
“During our discussions, I also had the opportunity to let USDOE officials know that I have every confidence that our new Director of Education, Malaetele Lui Tuitele, will welcome their visit and be accepting of their advice. I have every confidence in Malaetele Tuitele and I know he is committed to making sure that no child is left behind in American Samoa.”
“We also discussed the quality of teacher education. Many of our teachers would like to pursue 4-year degrees but opportunities are limited and this creates a situation in our public school system that is unlike the States. In the States, a teacher must have a four-year degree and be certified to teach. In American Samoa, most of our teachers have two-year degrees and are doing a wonderful job with the opportunities they have been given. However, given our unique situation, it would not be fair for the USDOE to judge American Samoa by State standards and I am pleased that the USDOE understands this.”
“At the same time, I believe we must be committed to using our federal funds and local taxes to improve teacher education. Our teachers deserve four-year degrees and our students deserve the same quality of education that children in the States receive,” the Congressman said.
“As I have said in the past and as USDOE officials confirmed, American Samoa receives more federal aid per pupil on a per capita basis than any other State or Territory. From 1995-2001, we received over $105 million from the USDOE. During the same time period, we received about $40 million from U.S. Department of the Interior through our operations grant that was used for our local schools. From FY 2002-2004, we received an additional $75 million from the USDOE and about $20 million more from the Department of the Interior. This totals more than $200 million in federal aid for public education in American Samoa,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“I am hopeful that with this kind of federal funding there will be a strong, local commitment to improve teacher education. Our teachers deserve higher salaries and our teachers deserve access to 4-year degrees. I commend ASCC for the work it does with the University of Hawaii to offer teacher education courses here in American Samoa. I am also pleased that one of the USDOE officials coming to American Samoa will be visiting ASCC.”
“I thank these federal officials for visiting our islands to see firsthand the problems we are facing. I welcome them to our islands and I am happy that Robbi Dickens, one of the many Congressional liaisons for the USDOE, was also able to attend Wednesday’s meeting. As a Congressional liaison, Robbi’s primary responsibility is to take calls from Congressional offices and constituents and put them in contact with appropriate USDOE officials.”
“For example, when my office first contacted the USDOE to restore ASCC’s Upward Bound Program funding, Robbi took the initial call and put my office in contact with Larry Oxendine, USDOE Director of the Federal TRIO programs which includes Upward Bound. In turn, I wrote directly to Mr. Oxendine and my office exchanged numerous calls with him until the matter was fully resolved and Upward Bound’s Program funding was restored.”
“Robbi is a nice young man and my office continues to enjoy a wonderful working relationship with him. I wish him every success in his assignment as a liaison in the Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs and I am hopeful that with a lot of hard work and determination he will one day work his way up the ladder and become a Program Director or Assistant Secretary.”
“Finally, I am hopeful about American Samoa’s future. Although the storms are rough in Washington and our soldiers are far from home, American Samoa is a place of promise. Our greatest promise lies in our youth and this is why we must be committed to making sure no child in American Samoa is left behind. Again, I commend USDOE officials for visiting our islands. I thank them for requesting a meeting with me prior to their visit and I look forward to being updated by them when they return,” the Congressman concluded.
Photo: Solomona Aoelua