News Releases

Mr. President, as the Senate gets ready to update our nation's federal education policy, I want to talk about the importance of the education debate we are entering into, some of the things we all agree on, the principles that guide my decisions, and a few concerns I have as we look at the bill before us.

Since 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has defined how the federal government helps students across the country. In America, we believe that no matter where you're born, no matter who you are or where you come from and no matter whether your parents are rich or poor, every child deserves an equal chance to succeed. This law, ESEA, puts that principle into practice.

Forty years ago, many students did not get the help they needed. Many lived in poor or rural areas that didn't have the tax base to support them. Many were discriminated against and many were left behind because they had special needs.

In 1965, Congress passed the historic Elementary and Secondary Education Act to fix those problems: providing a safety net for disadvantaged students, a stepping stone to help all students succeed, and a way to help us meet our education goals. During the Cold War, ESEA helped us focus on building skills in math and science. Today, with our high tech economy, ESEA is helping students learn to use technology.

As we update this law, we're not just changing letters on a page. We're changing the law that's helped make our schools more equal, more fair and more successful for students across the country. And I take this responsibility very seriously. The Senate may only debate education for a few weeks, but what we decide will be felt in classrooms across the country for a decade or more. Let's make sure we do this right.

Areas of Agreement As we begin this debate, there are some things about which we all agree. We all agree that we want every child to reach his or her full potential. We all agree that taxpayer dollars should be held accountable and should be used for things that we know work. We all agree that we can make a difference at the federal level with what we do -- otherwise this debate wouldn't be so heated. We know that federal support is an important part of every child's education. Finally, we all want to be proud of America's schools.

Today there is a lot to be proud of. Every day we hear stories about the progress kids are making. Every day we talk to leaders who were inspired by teachers in our public schools -- teachers who helped them succeed. I know I wouldn't be here today without great public school teachers. The truth is we've made a lot of progress as a country improving education. This is an opportunity to build on that progress.

I've been in classrooms where teachers are excited and where their kids' eyes are bright and their minds are eager to learn. In Washington state, our teachers, parents, educators and businesses have put together annual assessments that are changing the way we think about education and expanding our possibilities.

We're working on this bill because we know that states and local school districts want a federal partner. And we're excited because we know that being a responsible partner, we can help make sure great things happen in every school.

Principles Because we'll be talking about a lot of different issues, I want to outline some of the principles I've developed to make sure we're doing the right thing for of students.

First, we've got to invest in the things that we know work. I've been saying this for years, and it's critical as we update our nation's education policy.

Second, we've got to protect disadvantaged students and make sure they get the extra help and support they need.

Third, we've got to make sure that public, taxpayer dollars stay in public schools.

Fourth, we've got to help meet the national education goals we're committed to: whether it's making sure every child can read, making sure every child gets the skills they need for tomorrow's workforce, or making sure every child attends a school where they are safe.

Finally, we've got to set high standards and provide the resources so all students can meet them. So those are my five principles for this debate on education policy.

My Concerns Next, I want to outline some of the concerns that I have at the start of this debate.

First, so far I don't see a commitment from this Administration to provide the resources so all students can reach high standards. We can't just tell students they've got to meet certain goals without giving them the support they need to get there. Just telling students they've got to pass a test or their school will be reconstituted won't help a single student learn to read or write. So far, this Administration has been very vocal about saying it will punish schools that don't improve, but it's been way too quiet on how they will provide the resources so students can improve. Imposing tests and punishments without resources won't help students to learn. It will just punish them.

I have a second concern, and this one's about the President's testing plan. As we all know, there's a lot of discussion about testing about whether or not it works. That's a debate that we ought to have, and I expect we will. But one thing is clear. We cannot require states to conduct these expensive tests on a yearly basis without also giving states the resources to do what we are requiring.

As a former school board member and state senator, I can tell you what will happen. President Bush will send an unfunded mandate to the states requiring them to test students every year. The states and districts and schools will have to take money -- some estimate the cost at $7 billion -- away from things like hiring teachers and developing curriculum to pay for these tests. And that's going to end up hurting students.

If President Bush doesn't pay for the tests he's imposing, students will get hurt.

I know that a lot of my friends on the Republican side are very concerned about unfunded mandates from the federal government to the states. I hope you'll follow through on your concern by ensuring President Bush funds the tests he's demanding.

There's another important question related to new federal tests: How will we use the results of those tests? If we just use test results to punish, we're not helping any students. Instead, we should use those test results for what they are: a tool, a tool to show us which areas need improvement. And we can't stop there. We invest in the areas that need improvement. That's the right way to use tests to make schools better and to help students learn.

Finally, Mr. President, as I look at the proposed bill, I see gaping holes. This bill leaves out dedicate funding for class size reduction, for school construction, for teacher recruitment and for school libraries. We know that these efforts have made a positive difference for students across this country. Amendments will be offered to make sure this bill funds those important efforts. I plan to introduce at least one myself on class size, and I look forward to supporting the others.

So Mr. President, as the Senate gets ready to begin this very important debate, I hope we'll all remember that what we do here will have a real impact on students for years to come. We have an opportunity to bring success to every student across the country, to support the things that are working, and to continue our role as an important partner in educational excellence. Students, parents and teachers are looking for support and leadership, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure we provide it.