News Releases

Remarks by Senator Patty Murray on Latino Education at Washington's LEAP Conference

Feb 20 2004

Senator Tells Advocates that the President's Budget Threatens Latino Students

Audio - (The first 30 seconds are in Spanish. The rest of the audio is in English.)

(Seattle, Washington) - On Friday, February 20th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) spoke to more than 300 students, educators, and legislators about the fight she's waging in Washington, D.C. on behalf of Latino students.

Murray spoke at the fourth annual conference of Washington's Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP) in Olympia, Washington. LEAP was started in 1998 to improve academic achievement of Latino students. The organization helped pass Washington's In-State Tuition bill and supports parent literacy, bilingual education, and college opportunities for resident students.

In a speech frequently interrupted by applause, Murray discussed expanding bilingual education, improving the graduation rate, and helping more students attend college. She discussed the PASS Act (her bill to improve high school education), and she detailed how choices in the President's budget threaten Latino students.

Senator Murray has been recognized as a leader on Latino issues by the National HEP/CAMP Association, the National Association of Community Health Centers, and El Centro de La Raza. In 2002, Senator Murray created a new initiative to fund farmworker housing in Washington state. In August, she brought the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, to Yakima for a day-long summit on healthcare, education, justice and jobs.

Summit Photo

Resources on the Web

At LEAP's conference, Senator Murray was introduced by Washington Representative Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney [D-46th District].

Rep. Gutierrez-Kenney's introduction and Senator Murray's remarks follow.

REP. GUTIERREZ-KENNEY: It's a pleasure for me to be here with you this evening and thank you for giving me the honor to introduce your first speaker. I want to say some things about Patty Murray so that you all know where she’s come from.

Patty Murray never planned to enter politics, but today she is serving her second term in the U.S. Senate, as a member of the Democratic leadership. From the classroom to the Congress, Patty Murray has been an effective advocate for Washington's working families.

Originally known for her work on education and the children's issues, Senator Murray has become a leading figure in transportation, border and port security, healthcare and economic development. In 1980, when a state politician told her she couldn't make a difference -- we've heard that haven’t we? -- Senator Murray led a grassroots coalition of 13,000 parents to save a local preschool program from budget cuts. And she did it. Nobody should tell her she can't do it, because she will do it.

She went on to serve on the local school board, and in 1988 was elected to the Washington State Senate. In 1992, she became the first women to represent Washington state in the U.S. Senate. Que viva las mujeres! Viva! [applause] In 1998, she was reelected by a large margin and is currently Washington's senior senator.

I could read to you some more that is on this paper, but I want to talk about the real person, Patty Murray.

I've had the pleasure and the honor of knowing her for a number of years, and she truly is a leader. She is a doer. You know there is a saying that goes, 'there are those that make it happen, there are those that watch it happen, and then there are those who wonder what happened.' Well, our senior U.S. Senator is one of those who makes things happen. But most of all, I really respect and honor her because she is a person who is always working for the working families. She is a person who respects every individual no matter what their creed, race, ethnicity, or belief is. She is a person who respects the farm workers. She is a person who respects all of our working groups in our communities. And she certainly respects the rights and dignity of every citizen in the state of Washington, which then reflects to every citizen in the United States.

She has been a real leader wherever she stands -- whether it has been in the school board, whether it has been in the state legislature, and now in the U.S. Senate. And you know what? We intend to keep her there! Is that right? [Applause] And we all are going to work towards that end this year. Washington state is honored, pleased, and very fortunate to have U.S. Senator Patty Murray there working for us.

Please give her una aplauso mexicano. Somos chaparritas pero bravas. [Applause]

Remarks by Senator Murray:

SENATOR MURRAY: Thank you all for welcoming me. I'm going to have her introduce me every time so I don't have to change the microphone back down. [laughter]

Phyllis, before you sit down, I want to thank you for introducing me. But more importantly, we all want to thank you for introducing the in-state tuition bill last year and fighting to make it law. Let’s hear it for a real champion for students. [applause] I also want to thank our Lt. Governor for his remarks and say hello to LEAP’s board members.

In this room tonight, we have heroes. We have teachers, superintendents, state legislators, college officials, and students. We have people who have overcome great odds and are making a tremendous difference in our state. And in this room, we have young people who are on the verge of overcoming great odds – and I know you will – as long as we give you the same chance that all children deserve.

An Inspiration: From Migrant Worker to Leading Judge

Tonight, I want to share with you the story of one of those heroes. Years ago, a young boy named Ricardo was born in South Texas, near the border with Mexico. His parents were migrant workers. Ricardo, his sister and his parents did not have a lot. They did labor that few can imagine, for very little money, and even fewer opportunities.

When Ricardo was five-years-old, his family – along with a dozen other families – climbed into a big canvas-covered truck. They made the long journey from Texas to Washington state. They arrived in Whatcom County, settled at a migrant camp, and started working in the fields. Ricardo picked strawberries for 75 cents an hour. And it could have gone on like that forever – working in the fields, following the harvest, and never getting a real chance in life. But Ricardo's father knew that his children deserved better, and he knew they needed a good education. So that year he decided to keep his family in Whatcom County – and send his children to school.

Ricardo worked hard became the first person in his family to get high school diploma. In fact, he graduated from Lynden High School with honors. But he didn't stop there. He enrolled at the University of Washington, and he got his undergraduate degree. And he didn't stop there. He went to get his law degree from the U.W. He spent 10 years as a prosecutor for King county. He spent more than 8 years as a King County Superior Court judge, and he earned a reputation for fairness and compassion. In fact, he helped create Washington’s first drug diversion court. It gives people a chance to break their addictions and turn their lives around. Later, he was selected to be a magistrate judge for the Western District of Washington.

For more than 20 years, Ricardo has been a leading figure in Washington’s legal community. He has earned the respect of so many people in our state. Last year, there was an opening on the U.S. District Court in Western Washington. I’m proud to say that I worked with the White House and Senator Cantwell to nominate him for a seat on that high court. Last month, I spoke in support of his confirmation before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And proud to report that that man – Judge Ricardo Martinez – is on his way to being confirmed as the first Latino federal district judge in Washington state’s history.

Judge Martinez is here with us tonight. He is an inspiration and a role model, and I want all of us to share our thanks for his great service. [applause]

Last year, Judge Martinez said something to a local newspaper that I want to share with you. He said, quote:

"I've always considered myself extremely lucky. I was driving through Snohomish County the other day, and I saw some migrant farm workers along the road, and I said to myself, you know, I’m not far removed from them."

None of us are that far removed from anyone in our society who is facing tough times. None of us have control over where we're born, what our parents do, or what language our family speaks. We all face different challenges, but we all want the same things – a chance to learn and grow and succeed. There is really only one difference between a child working in the fields and an adult who is reaching his or her potential – and that difference is education.

In this room tonight, we have the next generation of judges, CEOs, Senators, teachers, lawyers, and doctors, and it's our responsibility to make sure they get an education that allows them to reach their full potential.

We know what needs to be done. But unfortunately -- in Washington, D.C. -- I see policies and decisions that will make it harder for disadvantaged kids to get ahead. So tonight I want to talk about how we can make sure that every child in our state gets an education that will make a difference for them and for all of us. And there is no group who knows more about what that means than LEAP. You have put your hearts and your souls into standing up for Latino students, and I am proud to support you in the United States Senate.

LEAP is Making a Difference

You have already made a difference by passing the In-State Tuition bill. You have given students the keys to a better future, and you have given our entire state a new generation of Latino educators, business leaders, community advocates, and elected officials.

I'm here today to say thank you -- because I know that every person in this room helped pass that bill. It started with our champion, a woman who is the voice for so many in our state legislature, Rep. Gutierrez-Kenney. She introduced the bill and got whole ball rolling.

You succeeded because of dedicated leaders like Ricardo Sanchez, who I have been honored to work with over the years. He is the heart and soul behind so many of the LEAP's victories.

You succeeded because hundreds of parents and educators stood up and told our legislature that it was the right thing to do.

Giving Students a Voice

And most importantly, you succeeded because so many students came to Olympia at this conference last year and showed the human face behind in-state tuition.

As a legislator myself, I can tell you that there is nothing as powerful as having a young person look you in the eye and tell you how a law will affect their life. I know that in this room we've got more than 100 students from every corner of our state who spent today walking the halls of power and meeting with legislators, and that is so important because there are thousands of young people in our state who will never get a chance to come to Olympia as you did today.

They will never be in a Senator's office. They might not even be able to tell their own stories in English. Before you came here, those young people really didn’t have a voice. But today, you were their voice, you spoke up for them, and you deserve a round of applause. [applause] So I'm here this evening to say congratulations, but also to say that our work is not yet done.

The Challenge: Soaring Latino Population But Low Test Scores

In our state, the number of Latino students is growing dramatically. As you know, over the last 15 years, the Latino population has grown by nearly 200%. It’s expected to double over the next 20 years. The numbers are growing, but our support for Latino students is not.

Sadly, Latino students still score last or near last on our state's assessment tests. Students who don't speak English face even more barriers and are falling even further behind. These students deserve better, and I want to share with you three ways that we can help all the kids in our state have a better future.

It starts with making sure all students can read. Then we've got to help them stay in school and graduate from high school. And finally, we've got to make sure they have they can go onto college.

Those are not great surprises. But here is something that is surprising. The people in charge in Washington, D.C. are refusing to make the investments that we need to make in those three areas.


Let's start with reading because it impacts everything else.

Bilingual Ed – Bush Freezes Funding

Many children are learning English as a second language. They need bilingual teachers who can help them learn to read. Unfortunately, we don’t have all the bilingual teachers that we need today. We should be investing more in bilingual education. I know that you're working here in the state to encourage more people to become bilingual teachers, and I support that.

I just wish you were getting the help you deserve at the federal level. A few weeks ago, the President presented his budget proposal to Congress. You would expect it to increase funding for bilingual education. But it doesn't. It does not provide a single dollar more for bilingual ed – even though we know the needs are growing.

I don't see how we can tell some kids that they'll get help from a bilingual teacher, but tell other kids that they're on their own. We can do better, and I will continue to fight or bilingual education in the Senate.

Family Literacy – Bush Eliminates Even Start

Unfortunately, there is even worse news for family literacy in the President's budget. You may be familiar with a program called Even Start. It supports literacy programs for low-income families. It involves early childhood education, adult literacy, and parenting education. We know that the greatest predictor of a child's success in school is the level of education of the parents.

We should be increasing our investment in Even Start, but the President wants to eliminate the program. That will mean a loss of $2 million that today is helping family literacy in our state.

So when it comes to helping kids read, we've got to reverse the cuts in the President’s budget. And I believe we have to go even further.

I've introduced a bill called the PASS Act. It will invest $1 billion to hire literacy coaches to help teachers identify students who need extra help and to help teachers infuse more reading into the curriculum. Those are the types of things we need to be doing.


And we know that reading is just the first step. The second ingredient is helping kids stay in school and graduate from high school.

Nationally, our high school graduation rate is 70 percent. But for Latino students, it's only 52 percent. We cannot allow nearly half of our children drop out of school and be denied their full potential. There are several programs that help at-risk students graduate from high school.

Gear Up

One is called GEAR UP. It reaches out to students in the 7th grade, pairs them up with a mentor, and gives them support to succeed in high school and beyond. GEAR UP is making a real difference in more than 30 communities and 100 schools in our state. In total, it is helping more than 20,000 students here in Washington. But there are many more students who need help, but the president is only proposing a minor increase in GEAR UP. I know we can do better and help more kids.

Improving No Child Left Behind

And when it comes to helping kids stay in school, I'm very concerned about the No Child Left Behind Law. My biggest concern is that we're putting new requirements on schools without giving them the funding they need carry them out.

But there's something else going on that could really affect Latino students. Under the law, students take tests, and schools are judged on the results of those tests. There is a real danger that kids who are having trouble passing the tests will drop out of school – or be pushed out of school. It doesn't take a lot for a student who's on the borderline to decide to drop out.

I want to be clear -- this is not something that any teacher or educator ever would do or say, but it is one possible result of the environment that these high-stakes tests could create. We're already seeing these effects in school districts like Houston, where thousands of students are being "pushed out."

And there are other problems for Latino students with No Child Left Behind. The government is counting how many students drop out – but it is not keeping track of which students drop out. If don’t know who many Latino or minority students are dropping out, we won't have the information we need to help them stay in school. Unless we get the Department of Education to track dropouts more accurately, Latino students could be come largely invisible and not get the help they need.

I know we can do better. The bill that I wrote – the PASS Act, which I mentioned earlier – says that we will give students high-quality Academic Counselors. These counselors will ensure each student has an individualized plan --and access to services --so they can graduate from high school prepared for college and a good job.


So let's turn to the final ingredient – a college education. For young people to attend college, they need to believe they can do. They need to be prepared academically, and they need to be able to afford it. We know that children of immigrants face even more barriers to post-secondary education.

That's why I'm a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act. As you know, the DREAM Act would give states the flexibility to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, and allow undocumented immigrants to gain permanent residency status. We need to make sure that kids who work hard and get into a good college can get in-state tuition and are not held back because of their legal status.

I know that if we invest in those three ingredients – reading, high school graduation and college attendance – we will unleash all the potential that so many young people have. They deserve better, and together we can make sure they have a chance to reach their full potential.

Let's Keep In Touch

Before I close, I want you to know how you can get more information on my website

If you're interested in my PASS Act, you can visit

If you want to know about Latino issues, I've got a section in English at and one in Spanish at

In addition, I have a newsletter on Latino issues, and I want to invite you to join my email list. You can sign up on my web page at

So in closing, I want to thank all of you for standing up for so many young people who don't have a voice today. I want to thank you for your courage in coming to Olympia to speak with legislators.

Some people in Washington, D.C. might not understand the great potential that our students have. They might not understand that it doesn't take much of an investment to open new doors for a child who is trapped in a life of migrant work.

Those people in Washington, D.C. might not get it. But we do, and we are not going to stop until we've fixed the budget so that students get the help they deserve. And I am not going to stop, until every child in our state – no matter where they come from, no matter what their parents do, no matter what difficulties they face – can reach their full potential.

The truth is that none of us are that far removed from each other, and we don't have a person to spare. We need every one of you to make it. We need every one of you to do the things that you are capable of doing, and I know that if we just give you a chance, you will make it.

If we give you a chance, you will become – like Judge Martinez – one of the heroes, one of the people who makes our state and our country a better place for every family. We need you, and I'm going to keep fighting for you in the United States Senate.