Duncan Urges Support for 2010 Budget Blueprint

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Speaking to the House Budget Committee Thursday morning, Education Secretary Arne Duncan elaborated on President Obama's 2010 budget blueprint and what it means to education.

While a fully fleshed-out budget isn't expected until April, Duncan urged support for the philosophy behind the blueprint, which he said is a belief that "all kids can learn." He described Obama's support for education funding as a "historic commitment to improve the quality of learning in America" and emphasized the criticality of this support by saying that education is the only "real solution to our long-term economic security."

Duncan also commented on potential policy changes to NCLB, about science education, about teacher quality incentives, and about his views of the role in the federal government. Those comments can be found in separate coverage here.

What follows is a transcription of Duncan's March 12 opening comments (excluding salutations) on the 2010 budget blueprint in his first Congressional testimony since his confirmation in January.

"The 2010 budget needs to be viewed in the context of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act because both of them will drive spending on education in our country over the next two years. Despite two wars, a struggling economy, and competing priorities--from healthcare to energy reform--this President has put the full weight of his office behind the effort to improve education. He and his wife have visited schools; they have used every opportunity to link their powerful personal stories to education. Taken together, the President's budget proposal and the stimulus package represent a historic commitment to improve the quality of learning in America. We have a real chance to lay the foundation for a generation of reform that can restore American leadership in education. To do that, however, we must ask much more of ourselves and each other. And his his speech on Tuesday, the President issued a series of challenges to every single stakeholder in this issue: to states and to districts, to unions and to reform groups, to elected officials and to parents, to teachers and, importantly, to our students themselves. He called for an end to the finger pointing, the end of worn-out debates and of low expectations. He asked us to set aside ideology and politics. In short, he asked us to stop fighting with each other and start fighting for our children.

"Thanks to his leadership and the support of Congress, we have never been in a better position to do just that. Today we have the money to stabilize states to prevent teacher layoffs. And we've seen recent studies from the University of Washington that talked about as many as 600,000 teacher jobs being cut. We have the opportunity now to save literally hundreds of thousands of teachers' jobs so we can keep our teachers teaching and our students learning. There's a significant boost in Title I funding to help low-income children achieve an education that is more on par with middle- and upper-income backgrounds. We can support programs for students with disabilities so that they can share more fully in all of the opportunities of life in our country. We have created a competitive grant program to encourage states to aggressively pursue needed educational reforms. And we're making the biggest boost in higher education funding since the G.I. bill.

"Because the Recovery Act provides over $100 billion in additional funding for everything from early childhood through college, the 2010 budget seeks only a modest increase. And behind the numbers is a clear philosophy: We believe that all kids can learn. Low expectations are the one sure way to guarantee failure. High expectations are absolutely a prerequisite for success. And that's why we must raise standards. Fifty states with 50 different standards is not good enough. We need to stop the race to the bottom and create a race to the top. Many state standards are well below other countries', and the President has called on states to begin moving towards college- and career-ready standards. We have to improve teacher quality; nothing is more important than getting a great teacher in front of every single classroom in this country. And there are many proven strategies, from national board certification to alternative routes into teaching to get more talent into the pool to rewarding excellence through performance pay. And we must fund new and innovative programs that work for our students, including charter schools. The President called on states across America to lift charter caps in states where we have the artificial cap there. We also must increase time in the classroom--afternoons, evenings, weekends, and during the summer months. As he noted, our academic calendar is based on the agrarian calendar, and so many of our students go through what we call 'summer reading loss' who get to a certain point in June, and, when they come back to us in the fall, they've fallen further behind. I worry lots about low-income children who don't have opportunities to visit college campuses and go to libraries and get read to over the summer. We have to think very differently about how we spend our time.

"This budget also reflects the President's belief that, in today's highly competitive, global economy, more young people and adults must go to college. And so he proposes that Pell Grants be guaranteed rather than discretionary. He also wants to boost Pell Grant funding and have it rise each year by inflation plus a point to keep up with rising costs. This is in addition to the higher education funding in the stimulus package, which provides $31 billion more for college access and Pell Grants and higher tax credits for the middle class. This will serve literally millions of additional students, and it will bring us closer to the extraordinarily important goal outlined by the President last week to be No. 1 in the world in graduating young people from college by the year 2020. Today, about 40 percent of our 25- to 34-year-olds have either a two-year or four-year college degree. Said another way, less than half of our country's young people have a college degree. We have to get that number up to at least 60 percent. The new economy demands it. We have growing jobs in areas like healthcare and technology and green energy, and our young people have to have the skills and the opportunity to enter those fields.

"Education, we firmly believe, is the only real solution to our long-term economic security. We must educate our way to a better economy. As the President has said, the nation that out-teaches us today will out-compete us tomorrow.

"Finally, the combination of the Recovery Act and the proposed budget reflect a deeply held belief that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. It is the only real and lasting path out of poverty for people who have been stifled for generations, victims of inadequate schooling and limited opportunity. All of the poverty programs in the world will never accomplish as much as a quality education for our children. Education is absolutely at the heart of the American dream. And so today, on behalf of President Obama and the schoolchildren of America and the 22 million adults who attend college with federal support, I respectfully request your support for this budget."

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