Betty McCollum

Address to Education - Aug. 2, 2004

Betty McCollum
August 02, 2004
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Thank you, Judy Schaubach, for the invitation to be here today and for your tireless work on behalf of educators, our children and public education in Minnesota. Your strong voice for progress and fairness in education is respected and admired. Judy, your commitment to ensuring that Minnesota teachers are treated with the respect and honor in the classroom, in our communities and in the legislature is very appreciated.

I would also like to take a moment to recognize the contributions of Sandra Peterson. I know that she was honored this summer for her career of service on behalf of teachers – and I would like to add my appreciation for her tireless work.

Sandra, I also would like to thank you for taking on the challenge of running for the legislature. Minnesota needs courageous, dedicated citizens like you serving in St. Paul. We all know of your commitment to children and families – best of luck and again, thank you.

As a parent, legislator, Member of Congress – and a former educator, it is a privilege to join you today. I know I caused some disruption in your agenda today and I greatly appreciate you accommodating my schedule.

Late last week I learned the House Government Reform Committee on which I serve will be holding a hearing tomorrow with the Co-Chairs of the 9-11 Commission so I am returning to Washington later this evening.

Being an educator is a hard job. I know it takes special, dedicated professionals to enter a classroom and educate our children. More is expected of teachers today than ever before. And, unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer resources, greater government mandates …. And the same salaries.

Your job is important – to our children, parents, our communities and the future of this nation. Your job is important to me and as a mom and as an elected official who cares deeply about education – THANK YOU!

This success of the United States is built on the foundation of open access to quality public education. My support for public education and the educators, administrators, school board members and parents across this state who commit themselves to educate and improve the future for our children is unwavering.

Today, I believe I have the opportunity to serve in Congress because ….TEACHER STORIES…. South St. Paul…and Community College Public schools have given me and most Americans the opportunity to achieve both our potential and our dreams. My belief in public education is not some nostalgic reflection….the future of our nation’s democracy, prosperity and global leadership will continue to be built upon a foundation of public schools and every American’s ability to access a quality public education.

Educators are special people dedicated to a profoundly important profession. You give our children hope and the opportunity for success…thank you for all you do.

From late August through early June teachers get up and go to work everyday. But for the past few years your classrooms are not your own. Why? Because back in 2001, President George W. Bush decided public education needed the help of Washington bureaucrats and the president gave public schools the No Child Left Behind Act – the greatest federal intrusion into local control of curriculum, evaluation and testing, teacher training and allocation of resources in history.

When Congress passed No Child Left Behind,only 41 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to oppose the bill. I was one of those 41 opposing the law – as well as a majority of Minnesota’s congressional delegation.

I voted no because I knew No Child Left Behind was unworkable. Education reform is necessary and possible. But let’s be clear, it must be about more than a standardized test. Education reform must focus to ensure:

  • parents are parenting,
  • communities caring for their children before and after school,
  • teachers are equipped to teach,
  • school districts are demanding classroom accountability matched with sufficient funding,
  • and the state and federal governments fully meet their commitments and pay the whole bill for the regulations they impose.

Parents, teachers and school boards needed to be trusted, empowered and held accountable for determining the best way for their children to achieve success in school – this for me is the only way our schools and our children will succeed.

The federal government’s role is to be a partner by providing promised resources and supporting states and school districts achieve educational success based on standards that reflect the needs and realities of diverse student populations.

This means fully funding special education.

This means fully funding Title I.

This means expanding Head Start, not cutting it.

This means expanding after school and summer school programs, not cutting funds to our kids.

We all want our children to learn in successful schools and we all want high standards. But No Child Left Behind’s high-stakes testing, punitive sanctions and burdensome mandates that has been under-funded by $27 billion the past three years is not a strategy for success.

This law has over 40 categories in which our schools can be judged as failing – but only one standard – mandatory standardized testing – by which they can demonstrate success.

No Child Left Behind is not making our schools and our children more successful, but rather it is the Bush Administration’s strategy to undermine and dismantle America’s public school system.

No Child Left Behind is a formula designed to find ways to fail our schools and another step towards imposing a voucher based education system.

In Minnesota, our legislative auditor estimated over 80% of our schools will be failing by 2014 under this law. In California, 95% of schools will likely fail. In Connecticut – 93% of schools are projected to fail. If the Bush Administration’s politic agenda was to label public education a failure then this law is truly succeeding.

I support accountability in education. Standardized testing is one of many evaluation tools that should be used to set standards for students, teachers, parents and school districts.

But we also need to hold this White House and Congress accountable for the double standard of demanding 100% outcomes in law, while delivering far less than 100% of the promised funding for America’s public schools.

The original meaning and concept of “No Child Left Behind” – before it was expropriated from the Children’s Defense Fund – should be our nation’s policy.

Leaving no child behind should be the moral imperative of the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth. So let’s make it more than a slogan, let’s make it our nation’s REAL goal:

No child without access to healthcare,

no child homeless,

no child without access to daycare or after school programs,

no child living in poverty,

no child forced to breathe polluted air.

If we judge our society by the quality of our children’s lives – all of America’s children – this nation is leaving millions and millions of children behind.

And, the facts are real and shocking:

  • Nine million American children have no health insurance. Every 50 seconds, a baby is born in this country without health insurance.
  • 12 million children living in poverty – more children than any other industrialized nation in the world.
  • In America, children under 15 years old are 12 times more likely to die from gunfire than all children in the other top 25 industrialized nations combined.

This is the real challenge facing teachers and indeed, our entire nation. We can’t provide a 21st Century education in 19th Century schools. Nationally, investments in education are not keeping up with the needs of children.


Fully funding IDEA –

Washington meets only 40% of its commitment to fund special education.

We all need to stand up and say Head Start is working and this Congress shouldn’t dismantled it – as has been proposed – but rather it should be fully funded because it works.

Tutoring, mentoring, after school programs…

We need to invest in educators.A new study by the NEA shows that teachers’ salaries in Minnesota fall below the national average. While Minnesota is in the top 10 for per-capita income, higher than any state in the Great Lakes region, teachers’ salaries in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana are higher than Minnesota.

One of the biggest obstacles to higher pay is the rising cost of health care – a major point of contention whenever contracts are negotiated. We need to stop treating health care as a commodity, and start treating it as a right. We need to remove the waste and greed of the health care system and help families save up to $1,000 on their premiums.

How can we expect to attract and keep great teachers with these challenges? We need to treat teachers as the professionals.

That means professional salaries, professional benefits and seat at the table as full partner in discussions about education policy.

Teachers deserve to be partners at the table where they are trusted and differences are openly debated. NCLB needs to be fixed, and teachers need to be at the table.

Instead, the Bush administration labels any dissent “treason” or worse. According to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, the 2.7 million teacher-strong National Education Association is a “terrorist organization.” This statement was hateful and beneath the dignity of any cabinet secretary. That’s why I led the effort in the House calling on Secretary Paige to resign.

Rather than striving to achieve the highest standard of civility, setting the best example for America’s children, Mr. Paige stood in the White House and vilified the NEA and America’s teachers by labeling them terrorists…in effect, enemies of America.

This vile language was no joke. It was not insensitive. It was in fact a deliberate attack, an example of Neo-McCarthyism at its worst. The Secretary’s words harm public education, and are clearly intended to threaten millions of teachers.

Having been in the classroom, I know what you go through.

I know the challenges you face every day. Teachers are not terrorists, teachers are patriots. The problem in America is not education or educators. Education in America is the solution. We need to invest in it, advocate for it and vote for it.

We all need to stand up and fight for our children.