Testimony of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan: The U.S. Department of Education Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request, House Appropriations Committee

as prepared for delivery

Contact:  
(202) 401-1576, press@ed.gov


Chairman Rogers, Ranking Member Lowey, Chairman Kingston, Ranking Member DeLauro, and Members of the Subcommittee:

Let me begin by thanking you for your work on the 2014 appropriation, which increased our investment in education over the previous year.

However, discretionary funding for education, excluding Pell Grants, remains below its 2010 level. Here is why I am so concerned about that.

The fact is that we are falling further behind our international competitors educationally. We should recognize that as an urgent wake-up call. But we are sleeping through the alarm.

In the U.S., we are still just talking about the steps many leading countries are actually taking to prepare their students for a competitive global economy. Falling behind educationally now will hurt our country economically for generations.

It's not that America isn't making progress.

I'm thrilled that a few months ago, we announced the highest high school graduation rate in our nation's history. That is a huge tribute to the hard work of teachers, students and families. Dropout rates are down, and college-going is way up, with African-American and Latino students leading the improvements.

But despite the gains we've made as a country, too many students are not receiving the education they deserve, and it is our collective duty to change that.

New civil rights data show that the educational experience for far too many students of color, students with disabilities, and English learners falls short of meeting the American promise that if you work hard and study hard, you will have a fair shot to succeed. We need the courage and the will to change the opportunity structure for these kids, for the good of our country. If we don't increase investment in education, let's be clear about exactly who we are leaving out of the American dream.

While we know we have much more work to do, many states are bringing forward innovative ideas to improve education.

For example: The Ohio Appalachian Collaborative, under plans developed under Race to the Top and the Teacher Incentive Fund, set out to redesign education in rural communities and strengthen community partnerships. The Collaborative now involves 26 rural districts.

Three years in, graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students in the original partner districts significantly exceed Ohio's statewide average, and the number of high school students dual-enrolled in courses providing college credit has increased 186 percent.

Ideas and innovations like those are so important. But as a country, we aren't improving fast enough.

In math, we've fallen behind countries such as Ireland, Poland, and Latvia. A few years ago, we were 24th in the world; now we're 29th. In reading, we fell from 10th to 20th.

Take a look at the chart in front of you to see how we stack up in early learning. In New Zealand—where I just visited—95 percent of 4-year-olds are in preschool. In the United States, according to our new civil rights data, 4 in 10 public school systems don't even offer preschool.

This is a global race, and America's kids are behind at the starting line.

In America, civil rights data show that our neediest students get our least experienced teachers. And the fewer minority students you teach, the more you get paid. That's not a winning strategy for helping all our kids succeed.

In this country, only about 20 percent of students have access to high-speed Internet in school—a basic learning tool today.

And in college completion, the U.S. has fallen behind as our cost of college has increased. We used to be number one in college attainment of young adults—now we rank 12th.

We need to get serious about providing real opportunities to all our children, cradle to career—by making preschool available, by providing good technology tools and support to teachers, and by making college affordable.

We need to get in the game, and right now, we're on the sidelines, talking. Let's stop talking and get down to work, so no matter where in America children grow up—whether it's Connecticut or Georgia or Ohio—they will have the educational opportunities to fulfill their greatest potential.

This budget invests in preschool, working with states to make quality pre-K a reality for all 4-year-olds.

It invests in equity of opportunity—through a 76 percent increase in Promise Neighborhoods, and through a Race to the Top-Opportunity fund that would focus resources on communities with opportunity and achievement gaps.

This budget invests in our nation's teachers and school leaders, including $200 million to connect educators and help them build their skills with new technologies.

And it invests in efforts that will keep college costs in reach for the middle class.

What this budget doesn't do is what the new House Republican budget proposal does—namely, to slash opportunity instead of growing it. That budget would curtail innovation, hurt schools, and diminish opportunity for children.

That's absolutely the wrong direction for our children and our nation's future.

Our military has always been our strongest defense. America's education system must be our strongest offense.

This budget responsibly increases opportunity for all of America's students and gives them a better chance to succeed in a global economy.

I ask your support for it, and I look forward to your questions.


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