News Releases

Remarks by Senator Murray at the Washington Council on International Trade Conference

Jul 01 2004

Murray discusses how her PASS Act Will Improve High School Preparation and Make American Workers More Competitive

(Seattle, WA) – Today U.S. Senator Murray addressed more than 150 trade, business and education leaders at her ninth annual trade conference hosted by the Washington Council on International Trade.

Senator Murray's opening remarks follow:

Welcome everyone to our ninth annual trade conference. It seems like every year we face different challenges when it comes to trade, and this year is no different. But whatever the challenge, the Washington Council on International Trade is always working hard to bring us together and to strengthen our economy. I want to thank WCIT and especially Bill Center for his great leadership. I also want to thank our panelists for coming here today to share their expertise.

In this room, we've gathered some of the brightest and most provocative minds to challenge how we think about trade, and to find ways to create and support jobs for Washington families. On our first panel, we're going to talk about the role of education in helping us compete in the global economy.

As the only former pre-school teacher in the United States Senate and as a Senator who represents a trade state, I want to share with you some ideas on education. I also want to let you know about a new bill I've introduced that will do a lot of things we're talking about today.

I also want to say a word about port security, because today is an important day for our ports. Today is the deadline for our all ports and vessels to implement their security plans. I was at the Port of Seattle on Tuesday, and I want to give you an update on where we stand.

But before I get to those two topics, I want to thank the contributing sponsors of the conference. Without their support, this would not have been possible.

As I mentioned, today is an important day for America's ports. Nearly 20 months ago, Congress passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act. It requires ports and vessels to implement their Coast Guard-approved security plans by today – July 1st.

On Tuesday, I was at the Port of Seattle, where I got an update from the Port, Customs and the Coast Guard. We are making progress at Seattle, Tacoma and other ports. Unfortunately, our ports are still not getting the support they need from the federal government. Instead, the feds are pushing more and more of the costs onto our businesses, our local ports and our communities. For example, the President’s budget included less than 12 percent of what industry leaders say we need to secure our ports.

In Washington, D.C., I've been pushing to make sure the federal government is a strong partner in port security. That's why I wrote and funded Operation Safe Commerce – which today is at work at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

Last year, when the Administration tried to divert funding away from Operation Safe Commerce, I stood up to them, and we won. But there is still a big difference between how we view port security and how the Administration views it. I want you to know that I'm still sharply focused on port security. I'm working to make sure that all of you and our local ports and communities are not left holding the bag for things that we all agree are national priorities. With that said, I want to turn to education and worker preparation, which is the focus of our first panel.

Nine years ago, when we started this conference, I couldn’t imagine that today we would be gathering to discuss education and worker training. But I'm thrilled that we are. I guess you could say I've got a lot of relevant experience on those topics: as the only pre-school teacher now in the United States Senate, as a former school board member, as the daughter of a small businessman whose livelihood depended on international trade, as the parent of two young professionals, and as a Senator representing the most trade dependent state in the country.

I am delighted we are here today to talk about educating, training, and maintaining a skilled workforce.

We start our day with a great panel including: a respected community college President, a nationally-known superintendent, and a technology leader with global influence.

But I hope everyone here today recognizes this panel and Senator Cantwell’s panel are right in line with every other panel we’ve held at this conference for the last nine years. We’re talking about strategies, policies, investments and relationships to help our state succeed in a hyper-competitive world.

We all know that trade is instrumental to our state. One in three Washington state jobs are trade dependent. We’re all touched by the economic activity generated by trade imports and exports, from and through our ports.

Nationally, exports and imports combined form more than $2.5 trillion in economic activity last year. I expect trade will grow to close to $3 trillion this year. But we will not be able to sustain and grow trade and the economy without an educated, trained workforce. To get a qualified workforce, we need to invest in education at all levels. While we taken steps to improve our elementary schools and continue to work on access to higher education, our high schools have been left behind.

In Washington, D.C., we have focused a lot on elementary education without looking at what our students in high schools are facing. A closer look at our high schools will show you that we are losing valuable time to educate and train future workers.

So let me go through some of the challenges facing our high schools today. They include: high dropout rates, high rates of illiteracy, and serious challenges in preparing graduates for success after high school. I’d like to take a few moments to touch on each of these.

Our teens are dropping out of school at an alarming rate. Each day, about 3,000 secondary students drop out of school. And nationally, the graduation rate is just 60 percent.

The graduation rate is even lower for minorities and students at inner-city schools. For the class of 2001, only 51 percent of the African-American students and 52 percent of the Latino students received diplomas.

A second high school challenge is the high rate of illiteracy. Six million of the nation’s 20 million adolescents ages 15 – 19 have difficulty reading. The reading achievement of 12th graders has declined at all performance levels since 1998. And there are still significant gaps in achievement between white students and minority students.

A third challenge concerns preparation for college and the workplace. For too many students, graduation and college seem out of reach. Sadly, many see don’t see themselves as “college material.” Or, they don’t plan for graduation or college or a career until it’s too late. We need to reach these students earlier and put them on track to graduate.

Nationally, only 32 percent of students left high school prepared to enter a four–year college. For Hispanic and African American students, the college preparation rate was even lower, only 16 percent of Hispanic students and 20 percent of African American students leave high school prepared for college. Even when they do make it to college, 40 percent still need remedial courses once they are enrolled. Friends, this quick glance at our high schools should be enough to demonstrate that our high schools need help.

This education crisis affects your businesses and our economy. In 2001, the National Association of Manufacturers reported that 78 percent of manufacturers believe that the public schools were failing to prepare students for the workplace.

According to the Utility Business Education Coalition, American business spends $60 billion annually on training, much of which is spent on remedial reading, writing, and mathematics. That $60 billion should be spent upgrading the skills of our workforce – rather than asking taxpayers and the business community to pay again to train and educate workers.

We must stop this downward spiral in our high schools so that our economy can continue to grow and we can continue to compete globally. That’s why I introduced one of the first bills in Congress to reform our high schools. My bill is called the PASS Act. That stands for Pathways for All Students to Succeed. It's Senate Bill 1554.

My bill calls for three things: literacy coaches, academic counselors, and the one ingredient that makes it all work – resources. Let me briefly explain how it would work.

First, my bill will ensure that reading instruction doesn’t end in the 5th grade. It creates a $1 billion “Reading to Succeed” grant program. It will put literacy coaches in our secondary schools, to help teachers give students the reading and writing support they need, including help for children with limited English proficiency and children with disabilities.

Second, my bill provides grants for high-quality academic counselors. These counselors will work with students and their families to ensure each student has an individualized plan – and access to services – so that every student will graduate from high school prepared for college and a good job. And finally, my bill provides resources to those high schools that are furthest behind. It creates a $500 million grant program that allows districts to identify, develop, and implement reforms to turn around low-performing schools and improve student achievement.

So my PASS Act tries to implement the kinds of changes that educators, parents and business leaders have told me we need. My bill proposes spending an additional $3 billion annually on America's high school students. That may seem like a lot of money, but $3 billion is just five percent of the $60 billion companies now spend annually on remedial training for their workers.

So we can continue to pay $60 billion a year on remedial training, or we can spend five percent of that now and help students and our economy. I think we'd all agree that it's a wise investment.

Our task, in our high schools and throughout our society, it to recognize that we have a lot of work to do to make sure more Americans can make the most of the opportunity to succeed and win in a globally competitive workforce.

You can help us turn the PASS Act into law. The business community can really mobilize the support we need to improve our high schools. I want to invite each of you to do three things. First, get the full story on my bill by visiting my website. I've got a special section about the bill. The address is http://murray.senate.gov/pass

Second, think about the groups that you're in – chambers of commerce, trade groups – and ask them to write a letter in support of my bill. Send that letter to my Washington, D.C. office.

Finally, let other elected officials know how important this is to our country and ask them to co-sponsor the PASS Act. We have a companion bill in the House of Representatives called the Graduation for All Act, and it already has more than 60 co-sponsors.

In closing, I think the PASS Act really fills a hole in education policy by providing critical support in high school that will help student graduate ready to succeed. I again want to thank all of you for coming and being part of this conference.

Now I'll turn the program back over to Barry, who will introduce the panel, guide us through our discussion, and take your questions from the floor.