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Washington, D.C— Today, Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Education Budget Request with Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. At the hearing Murray discussed the education proposals in the President’s budget and called on Congress to build on the two-year budget and focus on addressing the education deficit to make sure more Americans have the chance to succeed and contribute to the economy. Murray highlighted the importance of investing in education, from early learning through K-12, to higher education and career training, in order to expand opportunity and make sure the nation stays competitive in the global economy.

Key Excerpts From Chairman Murray’s Opening Statement:

“A quality education opens up opportunities and can give people a shot at living out the American Dream.  And a strong education lays the groundwork for economic growth and prosperity for the future. But right now, our nation is facing an education deficit. College is becoming more and more unaffordable for American families. Workforce training and adult education programs must do a better job of lining our workforce up with the skills needed to succeed in our economy. And many schools are struggling to get students ready for success in the classroom and future careers.”

“While a quality education can be a pathway toward success, the inverse is also true.  Failing to make important investments, so that every child has access to a world-class education, can weaken opportunities for Americans. And it hinders our nation’s ability to lead on the world stage. Where there is an education deficit, there is also an opportunity deficit. So, one of the challenges for this Committee is to find ways to better invest in education.”

“As a former preschool teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how early learning can give kids a strong foundation – not just to start kindergarten ready to learn, but also to succeed later in life. But it’s not just educators who recognize the importance of early learning.  I’ve heard from sheriffs in Washington state, business executives, and military leaders who all support early learning because of the long-term benefits it provides.  In Congress, Democrats have proposed a bill to expand early learning programs across the country.  But early learning shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and I’m hoping Republicans will support that legislation to expand high-quality preschool programs.”

“The President’s budget also includes proposals to support all students who want post-secondary education. That includes job training.  Expanding apprenticeship programs would help train workers in the skills that businesses need, and it would help those workers secure good middle-class jobs.”

“We know that education is fundamental to expand opportunities to more Americans. That’s why students, at every stage of their learning, from preschool to college and career training, deserve a quality education.  The President’s education proposal is a strong plan to build on our two-year budget deal. Now, it’s time for Congress to work together to make investments in a world-class education system.”

Full Text of Chairman Murray’s Opening Statement:

“This hearing will now come to order.

“Welcome everyone. I’d like to thank Ranking Member Sessions and all of our colleagues for joining us today. 

“And I want to especially thank Secretary Arne Duncan for taking time to be here to detail the Administration’s vision for investing in a world-class education system.

“A quality education opens up opportunities and can give people a shot at living out the American Dream.

“And a strong education lays the groundwork for economic growth and prosperity for the future.

“But right now, our nation is facing an education deficit.

“College is becoming more and more unaffordable for American families.

“Workforce training and adult education programs must do a better job of lining our workforce up with the skills needed to succeed in our economy.

“And many schools are struggling to get students ready for success in the classroom and future careers.

“In a recent assessment, U.S. students ranked below average in math, compared to students in other developed countries, and our students ranked only average in science and reading.

“As we struggle to prepare our students, other countries are gaining a significant, and potentially lasting, advantage.

“We also see gaps in achievement between African American and Latino students with their white counterparts.

“While a quality education can be a pathway toward success, the inverse is also true.

“Failing to make important investments, so that every child has access to a world-class education, can weaken opportunities for Americans. And it hinders our nation’s ability to lead on the world stage.

“Where there is an education deficit, there is also an opportunity deficit. So, one of the challenges for this Committee is to find ways to better invest in education.

“The Murray-Ryan deal was a strong step in the right direction. For far too long, Congress had been lurching from one budget crisis to the next.

“But at the end of last year, Chairman Ryan and I finally sat down to negotiate in a budget conference.

“We put ideas on the table. We made some tough compromises. We put partisanship aside. And we reached a deal.

“Our bipartisan, two-year budget rolled back some of the most damaging cuts from sequestration. It prevented a government shutdown in January, and it will help avoid another one in October. And it set spending levels for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

“Nobody thinks our two-year budget deal was perfect. It was a compromise. And now, we need to look at ways to build on that agreement by focusing on bipartisan areas of investment like education and workforce training.

“The President’s budget proposal would do just that, by expanding education opportunities from early learning all the way to college and career training.

“I was pleased to see this budget continues the Administration’s commitment to expand early learning.

“As a former preschool teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how early learning can give kids a strong foundation – not just to start kindergarten ready to learn, but also to succeed later in life.

“But it’s not just educators who recognize the importance of early learning.

“I’ve heard from sheriffs in Washington state, business executives, and military leaders who all support early learning because of the long-term benefits it provides.

“In Congress, Democrats have proposed a bill to expand early learning programs across the country.  But early learning shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and I’m hoping Republicans will support that legislation to expand high-quality preschool programs.

“We also need strong K-12 schools to make sure our kids can compete in a global economy.

“That starts with basic skills like reading and writing.

“Several years ago, Senator Sessions and I worked on that national priority. And together, we introduced a bill to boost literacy programs in schools around the country.

“In the President’s budget proposal, I was glad to see it includes strong support for a program I’ve championed called the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program.

“Boosting literacy will help give students the skills they need to succeed in a 21st century economy.

“Right now, K-12 schools are facing a very difficult situation in my home state of Washington.

“Secretary Duncan, as you know, it’s the first state to lose its waiver from some requirements mandated by No Child Left Behind.

“As you and I have now discussed several times, I’m very disappointed by the loss of this waiver. And I’m extremely concerned about the impact it will have on students, teachers, and families in Washington state.

“Now, it’s critical for all of us, at the state and federal levels, to come together to rectify this situation and put our students first.

“At the federal level, my focus will be on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  That reauthorization is long overdue.

“It’s time for Congress to work on that legislation and strengthen our K-12 schools.     

“The President’s budget also includes proposals to support all students who want post-secondary education. That includes job training.

“Expanding apprenticeship programs would help train workers in the skills that businesses need, and it would help those workers secure good middle-class jobs.

“The proposal also includes Ability to Benefit, which has been one of my priorities.

“Budget cuts in 2012 eliminated student aid for those who didn’t have a G.E.D or a high-school diploma.  But any student who wants to pursue higher education should have that chance.

“So, I’m glad the budget would restore job training opportunities for low-income students.

“One in six adults in our country score below average in literacy and basic math skills, according to a study by the OECD.  That’s why I’m a strong supporter of a program in Washington state called I-BEST.

“That program helps students gain basic skills, like reading, as well as skills for the workplace.

“We need more support at the federal level for programs that strengthen our workforce.

“I also look forward to hearing from the Secretary about higher education and college affordability.

“Specifically, I have serious concerns about recent allegations that student-loan servicers have been violating the law when it comes to how they are treating our men and women in uniform who are deployed abroad.

“I hope to hear how you, Secretary Duncan, are handling this situation and ensuring that we keep our promises to service members.

“More broadly, I believe getting a college degree shouldn’t be as cost-prohibitive to so many families, as it is today.

“The average student graduates from college more than $29,000 in debt.

“I hope to hear from the Secretary about the ongoing discussion in Congress to give students the option to refinance their school loans, as well as how we are going to maintain Pell Grants that help low and middle-income students get the chance to go to college.

“But student debt and grants aren’t the only factors we need to discuss.

“The cost of college is too high and it is only getting more expensive.

“That is prompting students to take out hefty loans that have serious impacts on their financial security after they graduate. 

“I look forward to hearing from the Secretary about how we are going to tackle both sides of the equation here: the rising cost of college in the first place, and also what that means for families and students who are being forced to take out more and more debt.

“Because, unfortunately, in recent years, states have reduced their investments in higher education.

“Forty-eight states are now spending less on higher education than they did before the recession hit in 2007, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“We know that education is fundamental to expand opportunities to more Americans.

“That’s why students, at every stage of their learning, from preschool to college and career training, deserve a quality education.

“The President’s education proposal is a strong plan to build on our two-year budget deal.

“Now, it’s time for Congress to work together to make investments in a world-class education system.

“If we do that, we will lay the groundwork for economic prosperity.

“We will help students get the skills they need to lead in the 21st century.

“And we will give our kids a better shot at living out the American Dream.

“Secretary Duncan, I’m looking forward to hearing your testimony.

“But first, I’ll turn to the Ranking Member, Senator Sessions, for his opening remarks.”