(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – On Wednesday, March 17, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered the keynote address at the Everett Public Schools Foundation’s 10th annual breakfast benefit. Speaking at Cascade High School in Everett, Murray reiterated her call for the federal government to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act.
“When the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, it had two parts: high standards and more funding for our schools. We got the first part, but Congress and the President never delivered on the second part,” Murray told the audience of over 300 educators, community leaders, and parents.
A former teacher and school board member herself, Murray also highlighted her Pathways for All Students to Succeed (PASS) Act, which would focus on improvements to the ability of American high schools to prepare students for college, careers, and training.
The PASS Act calls for literacy coaches, academic counselors, and, in Murray’s words, “the one thing that makes it all work – resources.” Addressing educators directly, she said, “my PASS Act tries to implement the kinds of changes I’ve heard you tell me that you want to see in your schools.”
Senator Murray’s Remarks Follow:
Thank you, Karen, for that warm welcome, and thank you all for letting me be part of your 10th annual benefit. I’ve had a chance to partner with you over the years on issues like education, healthcare, jobs, and transportation, and there is one thing I can say about Everett: you really know how to come together to make good things happen for the community.
Working with Everett
I saw that first-hand in working with you to land the 7E7 and to welcome home our troops on the Abraham Lincoln. I’m especially proud of the way the entire community has come together to support our students, and there is no better example of that than the Everett Public Schools Foundation. I know that students and families here are lucky to have such a committed group of people working hard to help all children get a great education.
I want to thank just a few of the many leaders who are here today: President Bruce Engebretson and the rest of the Foundation board; Superintendent Carol Whitehead; Mayor Ray Stephanson; Aaron and Kate Reardon; Councilman Mark Olson; Ginny Woodhouse; the Mill Creek City councilmembers; and everyone else, including our teachers, parents and business leaders, who are working hard everyday to support our students. Together we’ve had some recent victories, from landing the 7E7 to two things that happened recently in the United States that are good news for the local economy.
First, we just got more help for laid-off Boeing workers. I used my position as the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Employment, Safety and Training Subcommittee to make sure that all laid off Boeing Commercial Airplane Group workers are eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance. This means that these workers can get federal income support, training assistance, and a job search allowance.
I’m also proud to report that the Senate has passed my legislation to extend the Research and Development Tax Credit – which helps companies like Boeing keep good-paying, R&D jobs here in the community. I’m not satisfied with our economy today, and I’m working in the Senate to make sure that we move in the right direction.
And there is no more important issue than education. I’ve had a chance to visit some of the local schools over the years. I’ve been here at Cascade, and I’ve been to Lowell Elementary school among others. And I know that the Everett Public Schools Foundation is supporting the great education our teachers and our schools provide. Through programs like tuition assistance, college scholarships, and classroom grants, the Foundation is supporting students, rewarding success, and creating opportunities for the future.
“The Last Bake Sale”
As I think about the things that you do, I think about something I did years ago, when, much like today, education wasn’t getting the funding it deserved. In the 1980s, I was president of the Shoreline PTA. And back then, budgets were tight – just as they are today. Well, as a PTA mom, I knew what to do when you need more money – you hold a bake sale. So I gathered some friends, and we decided that we would hold a bake sale for the entire state. But we wanted to do it with a twist. We decided to call our event the Last Bake Sale, with the idea that we shouldn’t have to keep holding bake sales to make up for a state legislature that wasn’t adequately funding education. We took three cakes to Olympia, and we held a big rally in favor of more education funding.
Here we are, all these years later, and we’re still relying on bake sales and other efforts to give our kids the support they need. I wish that we didn’t have to rely on the generosity and leadership of the community to provide many of the things that our government should be providing. But as long as there is a need, I am proud that the Everett Public Schools Foundation is so effective at supporting education. Forget bake sales, you guys are so productive you make the Keebler Elves look lazy!
This morning I want to talk about some of the challenges our students are facing – and I want to share with you a new bill I’ve introduced to help improve education. But first, I want to say a word about the No Child Left Behind Act, because I know that it’s putting a tremendous amount of pressure on our schools. And like you, I want to make sure that our students don’t pay the price.
The No Child Left Behind Act
When the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, it had two parts. High standards and more funding for our schools. We got the first part, but Congress and the President never delivered on the second part. Last week, I introduced an amendment on the Senate floor to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act. My bill would allow our state to reach 28,000 more low-income children and provide after-school support for another 20,000 students throughout Washington.
Giving our schools the funding they need seemed like a “no-brainer” to me. But my amendment was defeated on the Senate floor. You see, they just don’t get it . . . but we do. I know that if all of you were sitting there with me in the Senate chamber, we could have passed that funding 100 to zero. I won’t be satisfied until our students get the support they deserve, and that’s why I’m so proud of the work you’re doing in our classrooms, schools, and communities.
I also know that funding is just one of the big shortfalls today. We all know that there are many new pressures on our schools. High schools today are faced with high dropout rates, high rates of illiteracy, and serious challenges in preparing those students who do graduate for success after high school. I’d like to take a few moments to touch on each of these.
High Dropout Rates
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. There are many reasons why students drop out. Whatever the reason, though, the fact is that this year alone, nearly 540,000 young people will leave school without a high school diploma. That is a sobering statistic – and it’s something we’ve got to change.
Students Not Prepared – Literacy
Another thing we’ve got to change is the rate of illiteracy in our high schools. Six million of the nation’s 20 million adolescents ages 15-19 have difficulty reading. On NAEP, the average performance of our 8th graders since 1998 has remained flat. 29 percent of boys and 20 percent of girls in 8th grade are reading at “below basic” levels. Worse, the reading achievement of 12th graders has declined at all performance levels since 1998: 33 percent of 12th grade boys and 20 percent of 12th grade girls read below the “basic” level.
And there are still significant gaps in achievement between white students and minority students. For example, in high-poverty, urban schools, more than half of incoming 9th grade students read 2 to 3 grade levels behind. And on average, African-American and Hispanic 12th grade students read at the same level as white 8th grade students.
Preparation for Success after High School is Inadequate
The upshot of all this is that for too many students, graduation and college seem out of reach. Sadly, many 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. Although about 70 percent of high school graduates enroll in college, only 7 percent from low-income families will have earned a baccalaureate degree by the age of 24. This is largely due to their not having been prepared in high school for the academic rigor of college. Even when they do make it to college, 40 percent still need remedial courses once they are enrolled.
So we know that the federal government is not doing enough for our schools and that, as a result, our schools can’t do all they want to do for our kids. Organizations like the Foundation serve to amplify individual voices and make sure they are heard.
I’ve also been working for some time now on the Pathways for All Students to Succeed, or PASS, Act. It 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 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. For example, work by the Gates Foundation and others has shown us that smaller schools work.
Now we need to bring the benefits of smaller schools to more students. So my PASS Act tries to implement the kinds of changes I’ve heard you tell me that you want to see in your schools. And believe me – I know it shouldn’t take moms with cakes to see them!
In closing, I want to tell you that for a long time now, I’ve been fighting to bring about the day when we don’t need to supplement public funding to give our kids the excellent education they deserve – whether it’s through bake sales, donations, the hiring of Keebler Elves, or whatever. And I want to assure you that I’ll keep fighting in the United States Senate to bring about that day.
Until then, though, I’m so proud that Washingtonians are setting high standards and members of strong communities like Everett are uniting to meet those standards. I’d like once again to congratulate the Foundation on its excellent work, and I’d like to thank the people of Everett. Your dedication is making a lasting difference in your community – and you’re setting a fine example for our state and our nation.