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Last night, U.S Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) spoke about the importance of continued investment in education for our nation’s future at a Committee for Education Funding Gala, where she was honored with the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding Education Advocacy. In her speech, Murray talked about her own personal connection to education issues, described how harmful cuts from sequestration and partisan gridlock have impacted investments in schools and students, and highlighted that she will continue to fight for these critical investments.

Key Excerpts from Murray’s Speech:

“… we know that no great country—or great business, for that matter—should ever slash investments in the very resources it needs to remain great in the years to come.”

“Because if we want to be a nation that continues to lead the way in the global economy, we simply can’t afford to cut back on education—the most important investment we can make to ensure long-term and broad-based economic growth.”

“We need to be working together to make sure every student has the opportunity to succeed regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.”

“…if we don’t build on the bipartisan budget deal and roll back those cuts—students across the country will pay the price for years to come.”

“We’re already hearing from Republicans who are very focused on the defense cuts and are interested in rolling back sequestration once again, we know the American people agree with us that education ought to be a national priority, and working together, I am confident we can find a path to another bipartisan deal to roll back harmful cuts across both defense and non-defense investments, no matter how hard it continues to be.”

“… The investments we make in education today—the policies we fight for to help our students succeed—will set a course for our children and our country for years to come.”

Full Text of Murray’s Speech:

“Thank you so much, Myrna, for that kind introduction. I want to thank everyone at the Committee for Education Funding for this honor—especially your Executive Director Joel Packer and President Kimberly Jones.

“I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the other members being recognized tonight: My great friend Senator Barbara Mikulski, Representative Hal Rogers, and two members who are retiring this year who have given so much of their careers to helping children and families across the country and whose leadership and passion I and countless others in this room will always be grateful for: Senator Jay Rockefeller, and Representative George Miller.

“And, finally, I also want to recognize the work of another Chairman who has dedicated his career to education and will be retiring this year—Senator Tom Harkin. We will miss Tom—but he has given us all so much to build on—especially when it comes to ensuring quality education for all our children.

“As many of you know, education is what got me into politics in the first place—and it’s an issue that has driven me ever since. When my kids were really young, I found out the preschool they were going to was going to be shut down due to budget cuts by the state legislature. Hearing about this, I thought, ‘Well, they just don’t know what they’re doing down there.’

“So I bundled my two little kids in the car and we drove all the way down to Olympia, a hundred miles from home—and I started talking to legislators about the preschool program and why it was worth saving. I thought I was doing pretty well. I had a pretty convincing case and two cute kids with me!

“But then, one state legislator said, ‘You know that’s really nice, but you can’t make a difference, you’re just a mom in tennis shoes.’ Well, I was wearing tennis shoes—but I didn’t think that meant I shouldn’t have a say.  So I bundled my kids back in the car, drove a hundred miles back home—steaming mad all the way—and when I got home I started calling my friends. They called their friends—and we reached out to other parents until there were over 3,000 of us—or just about 6,000 tennis shoes.  

“We wrote letters. We made phone calls. We brought our kids to hearing after hearing in the state capitol.  We made sure the legislature understood how important this program was to families.  And wouldn’t you know it? We won. They voted to reinstate it. I went on to teach at that preschool, serve on my local School Board, in the State Senate, and the United States Senate.  And I’ve never forgotten how much we can accomplish when we bring people together, share their stories, and fight for policies that work for families and communities.

“That lesson has never been more important than over these past few years, as we’ve had battle after battle here in D.C. over our budget, our priorities, our values our vision for what kind of nation we are—and what kind of nation we want to be.  We’ve lurched from one fiscal crisis to the next. From debt limit stand-offs, the fiscal cliff, the completely unnecessary government shutdown and sequestration, the automatic budget cuts to defense and non-defense investments that were never intended to actually be implemented.

“You know, many of us in this room spent a lot of time these past years working to address these automatic cuts. We know the impact they would have on education investments in particular—and how devastating they would be to students, schools—and the future of our country. And we know that no great country—or great business, for that matter—should ever slash investments in the very resources it needs to remain great in the years to come. 

“As Chairman of the Budget Committee, I made it a priority to have witnesses at our hearings who could put a face to the issue—and make sure my colleagues understood that this wasn’t just about numbers on a page, it was about real people, and real lives. I brought in teachers and students, moms and dads.  People who ought to have a voice at the table—who ought to have their stories heard—but too often don’t.  I went back home to Washington state, I visited Head Start centers, talked to families impacted by the cuts—and then I came back here to D.C. to share their stories on the Senate floor. And I wasn’t alone.

“So many others in this room worked so hard to make sure people understood that these cuts would hurt students and families and take our country in the wrong direction.  Education groups came together, talked to members of Congress, brought parents, students, and teachers to D.C. to advocate—and put the pressure on members back home.

“It wasn’t easy—and I know there were dark times when it seemed that nothing was going to get done but I truly believe it was this hard work, this pressure from all of you and so many others—over months and months—that put us in a position to make some progress and lay down a foundation for continued work.

“After the government shutdown ended last year, I was able to sit down with Chairman Ryan and finally start the budget conference I’d been trying to bring together for months. When that conference began, we faced a lot of skepticism that we would be able to get anything done. Every bipartisan budget group that had met over the past few years had ended the same way: with gridlock and inaction. And coming so soon after the partisanship and bitterness surrounding the government shutdown, many people thought there was just no way Democrats and Republicans could work together for the good of the country.

“We came in with very different budgets, very different ideologies, and very different values and priorities. But we also came in ready to put partisanship aside, find some common ground, and make some compromises.

“And because of the hard work so many of you in this room put in over the years the question we faced in that budget conference wasn’t whether or not we should restore investments in education, research, and defense priorities it was how much we should restore, and how we should replace the immediate cuts in a balanced and responsible way over the next ten years.

“Because you made your voices heard, built that pressure, and shared those stories—there was never any doubt in my mind that we would roll back defense and non-defense cuts equally—and that we would maintain that critical firewall protecting investments in domestic spending.

“The two year deal we reached set bipartisan spending levels through the end of next year. It replaced almost two-thirds of this year’s across-the-board cuts to education and other domestic investments. It has allowed Chairwoman Mikulski and Chairman Rogers to spend the year working together using the same topline numbers, which I am very hopeful will get us to new spending bills. It stopped the lurching from crisis to crisis—which gave us the opportunity to do things like pass the bipartisan workforce investment bill I’ve been working on with Senator Isakson for years.  And it has meant we can head into October 1st this year without worrying about another government shutdown.

“So thank you, once again, for everything you all did to help make that possible.

“The bipartisan budget deal was a step in the right direction. But it was only a step. It wasn’t exactly the deal that I would have done on my own—after all, my Senate Budget fully replaced sequestration for the full ten years. And I know it’s not what Chairman Ryan would have done on his own.

“But it moved us away from the dysfunction that has defined Congress these past few years. It proved that bipartisan work is possible when it comes to replacing sequestration and investing in our priorities. And it laid down a foundation for continued bipartisan work.

“And that last piece, to me, is so important—because we have so much more to do to help families and communities across this great country. Because if we want to be a nation that continues to lead the way in the global economy, we simply can’t afford to cut back on education—the most important investment we can make to ensure long-term and broad-based economic growth.

“We need to be working together to make sure every student has the opportunity to succeed regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make. And we need to support education investments that help people from the cradle through their career.

“As everyone in this room knows, sequestration is set to kick in again next year.  And if we don’t build on the bipartisan budget deal and roll back those cuts—students across the country will pay the price for years to come.

“I know a lot of advocates are tired. I know there is deep frustration at the gridlock and partisanship we see far too much of these days. And I know we’ve gone through these battles so many times before, that it’s hard to think of another one coming.

“But I also know some people on the other side of this issue are expecting us to give up. To roll over. To stop fighting.  They think they’ve worn us down—that we’ll just accept that children entering 1st grade this year will have to get by in schools held back by budget cuts until they get to high school, that we will just stand by and accept our country being hollowed out by deep cuts—while other countries are investing even more in education, research, infrastructure, and growth.

“But I know that’s not true.  I know the people in this room—what you care about—and what you are capable of.  I’ve seen you work together before, and I am optimistic. Not because it will be easy—it won’t be.  Not because it won’t be a fight—it certainly will be. But because we are on the right side—and we know it.

“We talk to the children who desperately need to learn. We hear from teachers who want nothing more than to have the resources they need to teach. We speak to parents who don’t know how they are going to afford to send their kids to college. We understand that our generation will be judged not only by what we do for ourselves, but by what we can offer our children and the generations to come.

“So I know you are all going to keep up this great work for students across the country. I know you are going to keep on sharing stories, making sure every member of Congress understands what’s at stake, keeping that pressure on.

“We’re already hearing from Republicans who are very focused on the defense cuts and are interested in rolling back sequestration once again, we know the American people agree with us that education ought to be a national priority, and working together, I am confident we can find a path to another bipartisan deal to roll back harmful cuts across both defense and non-defense investments, no matter how hard it continues to be.

“So thank you, once again, for this honor today—and for everything you do every day for students across the country.

“You know, receiving the Terrel H. Bell Award this evening, I’m reminded of a saying of his: ‘There are three things to emphasize in teaching: The first is motivation, the second is motivation, and the third is—you guessed it—motivation.’ So let me close by sharing my motivation.

"On my last day teaching preschool, my students presented me with a large quilt: 48 squares, each made by a different student. It’s a beautiful patchwork of suns, and smiles and scribbles, all wonderfully drawn in bright messy crayon. That quilt now hangs in my Senate office.

“When I look at it, I remember the little hands that made each patch. I think about those little heads with big curious minds—like sponges—and the responsibility we all felt to make sure they were leaving our preschool ready to succeed.  I wonder how many of the children that made those small squares now have kids of their own. And I’m reminded that the investments we make in education today—the policies we fight for to help our students succeed—will set a course for our children and our country for years to come.  

“That’s my motivation. And I know everyone here has similar stories that motivate them.

So thank you once again.  Congratulations to all of the other awardees tonight.  And I am looking forward to continuing our work together for a long time.”