News Releases

Senator Murray Discusses Tribal Education

Feb 15 2006

Murray Calls No Child Act "The Greatest Bait and Switch"
Senator Warns that the President's Budget Offers Inadequate Support for Tribal Schools

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) outlined her priorities for tribal education at a conference hosted by the National Indian Education Association in the U.S. Capitol.

Senator Murray, a long-time advocate for public education and for Indian Country, explained that the President's budget proposals will not meet the needs facing our schools.

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Senator Murray's remarks follow:

Thank you so much for that warm welcome. It's great to have all of you here in Washington, D.C. You're very lucky to have Ryan Wilson as your president. We're so proud of him back in Washington state. Ryan helped start the first urban Native American Boys & Girls Club in the nation in my hometown of Seattle. It just celebrated its second anniversary.

I also want to give a special welcome to my friends from Washington. I want to congratulate Evelyn Jefferson who just became the first woman Chair in the history of the Lummi Nation.

I know many of you have traveled a long way to be here today, but the truth is we need you here to help pressure Congress to do the right things for our schools and communities. You can help Members of Congress understand what's really happening in tribal schools. You can show them how the No Child Left Behind Act is affecting your communities. And it's a message they need to here.

Right now, we're beginning a very big debate about priorities in Congress. Last week, the President sent his budget to Congress, and it outlines his priorities. I have some very serious concerns with the President's approach. Now the House and the Senate are getting ready to outline our priorities. At the end of this process, we will pass a budget plan that will spell out how every federal dollar will be spent this year. So now is the time to get our priorities straight, and that's why we need you here.

You know, as I meet with working families, the main concern I hear is that they don't feel secure. They're worried they could lose their job or their pension or their healthcare. They worry they won't be able to put their kids through college. There is a lot of insecurity, and we need to address that.

We all want our country to be strong, and the way to do that is to invest here at home – invest in our people, in our infrastructure and in our future. And the best way to invest in our future is to invest in education – to make sure all of our kids are ready to succeed.

As you all know, the demands on our schools keep growing. Today, our schools are expected to be an educator, a parent, a disciplinarian, a social worker, and so much more – and to do it all with more accountability and less funding.

If we expect our schools to keep handling new burdens and new challenges, we need to provide funding at the federal level. New demands – without new funding – is a recipe for disaster. Congress and the President need to learn that lesson before more kids get hurt.

The No Child Left Behind Act is the greatest "bait-and-switch" I've ever seen. Schools were promised that in exchange for greater accountability they would get greater funding. Well Congress sure handed them the first part, but Congress has never delivered on the second part, and our students are paying the price. This year again, the President's budget falls short of what we need.

Under the President’s FY 2007 budget, funding for No Child Left Behind would increase by just 2%. That doesn't even keep up with inflation. The President's budget is more than $15 billion below what we promised in the No Child Left Behind Act. We've already under-funded it by $56 billion since it passed. Schools can't handle another year of being shortchanged.

I'm also very concerned about other parts of the President's budget plan for education. He wants to freeze funding for disadvantaged students under Title I. He wants to keep retreating on our promise to students with disabilities.

I'm especially concerned about how the president's budget treats early education. As some of you may know, I was pre-school teacher, and I know that a small investment in the early years make a big difference. In my classroom, I could tell which kids had come to school prepared to learn and which ones had not. We need to make sure all children can start school ready to learn.

That's why it's so disappointing that the President wants to freeze funding for Head Start.

And the President’s budget also shortchanges Indian education.

  • He freezes funding for Impact Aid and Title VII.

  • He eliminates the Johnson O’Malley program.

  • And despite a $1 billion backlog for new facilities and critical repairs, he cuts Indian school construction by $50 million.

We cannot expect any schools, including tribal schools, to improve without providing appropriate funding. So I'm very concerned about the priorities in the President's budget. They don't reflect my priorities. In the coming weeks, I'm going to be using my position on the Budget Committee to try and put the investments where they're needed most.

All of us here today know that schools throughout the country are struggling to meet the challenges of the No Child Left Behind Act.

For Indian Country, one of the real challenges of No Child Left Behind is – How can we improve Indian education while respecting and promoting tribal culture and language?

Title VII of the Act lays out one strategy, and the President issued an executive order two years ago to provide some more proposals.

But I'm very concerned that the way the law is being implemented does not allow for a culturally-based education. The key ingredients must be curriculum, teaching, parents and community involvement. Unfortunately, NCLB stifles those roles.

I've got other concerns with NCLB – especially with how this Administration is implementing it. This Administration has focused solely on rigid testing that may not be appropriate for all kids. That rigid test is based on curriculum that ignores programs such as music, art, and language which are not just critical to an Indian child’s education but all children.

I'm also concerned that children could be blamed if their schools don't perform well. As you know, the law requires schools to look at how all children are doing in a school. However, the law intended schools to use that information to provide support for so-called low-performing students, not blame those children causing the school to not meet AYP.

Children should not be blamed as individuals or as a group for a school’s lack of success under the law. It is also important that we explore ways of looking at students’ gains over time as opposed to the snapshot method currently used under NCLB.

So we've got a lot of things to fix – and as you know, we are supposed to reauthorize NCLB in the next Congress. I've seen your preliminary report on "No Child Left Behind in Indian Country." I think it's an excellent start to educating Congress on the impact of this law. It is critical that you take the time over the next year to not only educate the House and Senate but to also develop specific proposals for reauthorization. Over the next year, the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Senate HELP Committee will be holding hearings on NCLB, and we need to hear from you.

So I'm thrilled that you're here this week – making the case and building awareness. I've been working on education policy for many years and I can tell you – before Members of Congress can make education better – they need to be educated themselves about what's really happening in our schools – and you are the right people to lead that charge. So thank you for coming, we need you here, and together we're going to fight to do right by all of our children.