News Releases

Murray Urges Senate to Fund Education

Jan 16 2003

(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) spoke on the Senate floor in favor of an amendment to boost education funding.

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

Mr. President, I've come to the floor to support this amendment to ensure that all students get the educational resources they deserve.

This amendment funds Title I at the level we agreed to in passing the No Child Left Behind Act. It also increases Pell Grants to help more low-income students afford college.

This is the minimum investment we need to make if we are truly going to "leave no child behind." That's a noble goal. One that we should all endorse. But it is a travesty to use the mantra of the Children's Defense Fund as a cover for policies and budgets that hurt, rather than help, America's students.

Make no mistake, the bill before us - based on President Bush's budget – will leave students behind.

I find it particularly incredible that at the same time that the President and his friends in Congress are pushing for a $674 billion tax cut, they are insisting we provide less money for the education of our children.

Look at Title I. It pays for things like books, teachers, tutoring and preschool for our most needy students.

The President and his party are saying that – we can no longer afford the $1.5 billion increase slated for Title I last year, yet we can afford to give $20 billion to 226,000 millionaires.

One year ago, when we passed the No Child Left Behind Act we agreed on sweeping new requirements and mandates.

We also agreed that Title I would need to be funded at $16 billion this year for schools to meet these requirements.

America's students and their parents have entrusted us with their future. We cannot turn our backs on them and say, "We've done our part by setting high standards and creating tough accountability. The rest is up to you, even if you are trying to learn in overcrowded classrooms, from unqualified teachers coping with crumbling school buildings." Yet those who oppose this amendment are saying just that.

Last week, the President celebrated the one-year anniversary of the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act by calling it "the most meaningful education reform probably ever."

But that reform had two parts. On one hand, it called for higher standards and accountability. On the other hand, it promised more investments so schools could make progress.

My good friend Paul Wellstone spent many hours on this floor reminding all of us that the so-called No Child Left Behind Act would be at best a sham, and at worst a serious blow to the public school students of our country if it was funded on "a tin cup budget."

I fear that this appropriations bill will prove him right. By providing only an inflationary increase in education funding – while significantly raising the demands on our schools, we have reduced America's students to begging for the government's spare change to finance their future.

Setting a high bar is important, but setting a high bar and failing to give kids the resources to succeed is just setting them up for failure.

The appropriations bill before us offers the smallest increase in education funding in seven years.

It freezes the state grants that reduce class size and improve teacher quality. As a result no new teachers will be hired, and fewer teachers will get professional development.

This bill does not fully fund our share of special education costs, failing yet again to fulfill that commitment to our communities, our schools and our disabled students.

And it fails far short of the Title I funding that we included in the No Child Left Behind Act because we knew it was necessary to help our students succeed.

We know what the needs are out there. We know what works to help our children succeed.

We also know that making college affordable is critical to helping students succeed and to helping our economy grow.

Senate Democrats have worked to increase funding for Pell Grants.

In FY 2002, while the Bush administration proposed NO increase in Pell Grants, Senate Democrats increased the top limit from $3,750 per year to $4,000 per year.

Again this year, the President proposed NO increase in Pell Grants. It is a good step that this appropriations bill includes a small increase for Pell Grants, but it is not nearly enough to meet the rapidly rising need.

In my home state of Washington, the Legislature cut $1.6 billion out of the budget last year.

This year – suffering from even deeper economic distress – they need to cut an additional $2.5 billion.

As a result, tuition at our public colleges and universities increased 12 to 16 percent this year, and we could be looking at similar increases next year.

I am worried that students will look at that increase in tuition, see no significant increase in federal aid, and decide they cannot afford to go to college.

One of the most important things America can do to ensure a safe and secure future is to help educate our young people.

We know that a college degree means, on average, an additional $20,000 a year in income for men, and an additional $15,000 for women.

Given today's global, knowledge-based economy, the gap in earnings between those Americans that have a college degree and those that have only a high school degree is likely to grow.

Ensuring our young people have the resources to go to college is a critical national priority.

Putting America's future first means putting our children's education first. But the sad truth is, this appropriations bill shortchanges America's students.

We have spent so much time talking about how we can hold teachers, administrators and even parents, accountable for doing their jobs well.

Well I'd like us to focus on doing our job well. And that means making good choices for our children and investing in their futures.

At a time when we are -- and should be -- demanding more than ever from our schools, we must not slow down the federal investment in our schools.

We must not abandon our commitment to help reduce class sizes and provide quality teachers.

We must not continue to shirk our responsibility to disadvantaged students.

Mr. President, the Republican bill freezes our progress. That's why we've offered this amendment: to provide the resources that parents, teachers and students are asking for.

This amendment could ensure more children start school ready to learn.

It could help more children learn in smaller, well-disciplined classrooms by hiring 50,000 fully-qualified teachers to reduce the size of classes. It could help our local districts ensure there is a high quality teacher in every classroom.

It could allow communities to offer more after-school programs to keep an additional 1 million latchkey children safe and learning.

And it would help more Americans afford college.

Are we going to let our children continue to go to school in overcrowded classrooms, in crumbling schools buildings, with underpaid, inadequately prepared teachers?

Or will we rise to the occasion and make the choice to invest in our children's future?

We know what the needs are out there. We know what works to help our children succeed.

We just need members of Congress to stand up and put the money where their mouths are.

Parents, teachers, students and community leaders are saying: "Don't just talk about the importance of funding education. Make the tough choices to show the American public that education is truly a priority."

That means giving our local school districts the resources they need to provide a first rate education to every student in this country by supporting this amendment. I urge my colleagues to vote "yes" for our children and grandchildren and their future. Vote "yes" for this amendment.