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(Bellevue, WA)  - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered the keynote address at the 2013 Washington Education Association’s Representative Assembly in Bellevue, WA.

Senator Murray’s remarks, as prepared:

“Thank you very mu­ch, Mary, for that introduction.

“Mary has done an incredible job as the President of the Washington Education Association.

“We’ve worked together for a long time to make education better in Washington, and I know this organization and our state are better off because of her work.

“And I’m so grateful to be here today with all of you.

“As someone who has a good deal of experience knocking on doors and speaking up to support education – and yes, of course, in my tennis shoes – I want to congratulate all of you on your efforts to change things for the better in Olympia.

“Serving in the Senate means you speak to a lot of different groups in a lot of different places – but I can tell you I feel most at home in a room full of teachers here in Washington state.

“And I can honestly say that I’ve been looking forward to speaking here for a few weeks now.

“I’ve been thinking about a speech I gave to a group of teachers from WEA about 20 years ago when I was first running for the U.S. Senate.

“No one was giving me a chance – I was a real long shot.

“But I wasn’t running because I had a chance. I was just so tired of all the guys in blue suits and red ties making all the decisions about my kids, my family, my community, and our future.

“I told all of you how I’d been mocked for being a mom in tennis shoes, and you stood up for me, and behind me, and together we beat all the odds.

“And today this mom in tennis shoes is proud to stand with you as your United States Senator.

“Now, as many of you may know, it was my own experiences as a preschool teacher and a mother that got me into politics.

“In fact, I was doing the exact same thing you’re doing now – fighting for what I believe in by organizing a grassroots campaign to save a local preschool program, and I ended up teaching in that school, going on to serve on the school board, winning a seat in the State Senate by running a campaign focused on education, and then talking about those same passions when I first ran for the U.S. Senate.

“You see, I learned about the importance of education long before that first campaign.

“When I was growing up – I had a big, loving family with six brothers and sisters.

“But when I turned 15, my dad, a World War II veteran, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

“And in a few short years, his illness got so bad he couldn't work anymore.

“So very quickly, our family fell on hard times.  But we were lucky enough to live in a country where the government didn't just say "tough luck." 

“When we faced tough family budgets and hard times – our government was there to give us a helping hand – from food stamps for a while to veterans’ benefits for my dad and help for my mom to go back to school.

“But nothing did more for my brothers, my sisters, and me than the public schools we attended.

“The opportunities we had, to go to good public schools in our hometown – and then go on to college – are a big part of why we’ve all been able to succeed.

“So when I talk with people about the importance of education – whether it’s teachers, business leaders, other elected officials, anyone – that’s my perspective.

“It’s our government’s responsibility to make sure all kids have an opportunity in this great country we live in.

“For me, this isn’t a political issue, and for me, investing in our teachers and our schools isn’t just a talking point – I know from experience that it’s the most important thing we can do to strengthen our communities and build our economy.

“That’s what made me a preschool teacher, it’s what made you teachers, and it’s what we’re working for when we all gather together.

“Now, I learned a long time ago you have to fight for what you believe in.
“And it’s not news to any of you here – as teachers, as parents, and as advocates for education – that we continue to face some difficult challenges.

“The last few years have been tough.

“Our economy has suffered, our budgets have tightened, and all of you have had to do more with less in your own lives and especially in your classrooms.

“And just when we need good schools and good teachers most, we’ve seen our education system caught up in the middle of bitter political fights – not just in Washington, DC, but here in Washington state, too.

“Again – this isn’t news to you.  You experience the challenges that schools face every day, and you know firsthand what it takes to help even a single child succeed.

“But for me, as a United States Senator, and as someone who spends half of my time on the other side of the country– I rely so much on what families here tell me to know what’s really happening on things we care about.

“So I want to tell you about a letter that I received a couple of years ago from a teacher in Bellingham – something that’s really stuck with me.

“The woman who wrote this letter hasn’t had it easy – but she’s like so many teachers that I meet – she’s tough.

“She grew up homeless, and for her, school was the only way to make a better life.

“And she made a vow to one of her teachers, one of the people she called the “giants” of her life – to become a teacher herself if she could one day escape poverty.

“And with a lot of hard work and sacrifice, she did it – she became a teacher and started a family of her own.

“And she was so proud when her son followed her example and became a teacher, but one day he called her to say that he was going to leave the profession.

“He told her “there are people who shouldn’t be teachers – just as there are bad apples in any profession.”

“But now,” he said, “every teacher gets painted with the same brush” – and the profession he’d chosen – to become one of the giants of his mother’s childhood – bears the brunt of budget cuts and political attacks.

“This woman knew what her son was going through, and it broke her heart because she remembered what the giants of her childhood meant to her, and she knew what her son meant to his students. 

“She knew that good teachers change lives, but she couldn’t deny that it’s become harder and harder to be a teacher.

“Every year – we face tougher challenges and steeper cuts to education funding.
“Cuts from sequestration are sapping schools of the resources they need to be successful.

“And conservatives back in Washington, DC are proposing even more cuts to the education programs that you rely on. 

“As the education world changes around us, you’re forced to adapt at warp speed – to changes in teacher evaluations, curricula, and assessments.

“More than ever before – the role that teachers play in our communities and in our children’s lives is being questioned.

“Debate on unions, school choice, and even the structure of public education in this country has entered the political stage – and let me tell you – I know it can get ugly in politics.

“These are tough challenges – believe me, I know they are.

“But that’s why I’ve been looking forward to speaking with you – because I want to talk with you about how we’re going to keep moving forward.

“Because we need great people to be our teachers, and it’s important you are a part of this conversation.

“If we want our nation and our economy to compete and win in the 21st century, we have to keep improving our education system.

“And we know we can, because together, we’ve already achieved so much.

“In extremely difficult budget climates – here in Washington state and at the federal level – we’ve fought for education funding to give our schools the resources they need.

“We’ve worked to reduce class sizes – because we know students in smaller classes are more likely to finish high school, graduate with honors, and go on to college.

“We fought for $10 billion in Education Jobs funding, to help retain teacher jobs in Washington and across the country.

“We’ve supported Head Start and expanded programs that help at-risk and low-income students get the specific resources they need.

“And we’ve secured federal School Improvement Grants for 27 schools in Washington state – and those schools are outpacing the competition in every other state in the country.

“But despite those accomplishments – there’s work to be done.

“We have to professionalize teaching.

“Our teachers should be evaluated in ways that help them become better. That means basing evaluations on multiple measures, providing teachers with useful information and feedback on their performance – not just using evaluations in a punitive way, and fostering schools where teachers are supported and provided with the professional development you need to succeed, not placed under a microscope.

“And if we want to attract and retain good teachers for our schools, we also have to improve working conditions and compensation.

“If we’re going to trust our educators with our children’s future, then we need to provide you with the resources – and just as important – the respect you deserve.

“That means a competitive wage, support systems, mentorship programs that help young teachers learn from seasoned veterans, time to plan and collaborate, and schools focused on what’s most important: providing a good education for all of our children

“These aren’t feel-good mottos – they are principles that are worth fighting for.

“And I don’t need to tell you this – but it’s teachers, not lawmakers, who know best how to educate our children – it’s all of you who know what it takes for them to succeed.

“That means focusing on more than just funding for schools – it means supporting programs and best practices that make the most out of the education budgets we do have.

“In addition to smaller classes and innovative learning programs – we have to incorporate technology into our courses and lesson plans.

“We have to re-invest in the STEM programs to close the skills gap and prepare our children for an economy that’s driven by innovations in science, math, and engineering.

“And while we’re striving to do more for our students on the cutting edge, we can never abandon our commitment to educating each and every child in our communities.

“So we can’t use difficult budgets as an excuse to cut back on programs for at-risk students and children with disabilities who rely on programs tailored to their needs.

“But most of all, we have to renew our commitment to putting results for our children first. I know that’s a priority that we all share.

“Now, I can tell you – because I’ve spent more than two decades in Congress – that in fights like the one going on in education right now, you’re not going to get everything you want.

“Just this year, as I took on the role as Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, I was faced with a daunting task, a divided Senate, and a committee with members across the political spectrum.

“And I was told I was crazy to take this on because I could never get a Budget passed.

“Even Grover Norquist said I couldn’t do it. He said: “The lady from Washington doesn’t do budgets.”

“But I knew it needed to be done – I knew we needed to show that our investments in education, infrastructure and our people were as important as our deficits.

“And I knew we could and should fight for a fair and balanced budget.

“So despite what so many people told me, I was able to pass a budget through the Senate for the first time in four years, by doing two things: Working with my colleagues to find compromises and never abandoning my principles.

“And that’s the same approach we need moving forward in education.

“Because we’re not going to get everything we want, but we don’t have to abandon our commitment to stand with teachers to improve our schools and do more for our kids.

“So as we move forward, we must be ready to change with the times, adapt to difficult circumstances, and never give up on our principles.

“I know when you decided to make education your profession, you didn’t do it for the money or the prestige.

“And I know that when all of you signed up to be teachers, you knew…

“…It was not going to be easy.  It was often going to be thankless, and sometimes it would be difficult to change things for the better

“But you signed up anyway, because you wanted to make a difference in children’s lives.

“You wanted to pass on a better world to the next generation, and you wanted that world of opportunities to be part of every child’s life.

“And when all of you go to work each day, that’s what you’re doing – making a difference for children across our state.

“So while you’re working to improve our education system, it’s never been more important to stick to your principles of fighting for our kids, demanding the resources you need, and getting the respect you deserve.

“But most of all, this fight will require you to remember why you all decided one day to become teachers.

“And as you leave here to go back to your classrooms and to work to make our schools what we need them to be.

“It’s going to be tough – but don’t give up.

“Remember this – a lesson I learned a long time ago.

“When someone tells you you can’t make a difference, it’s usually because they are afraid you will.

“Thank you."