ICYMI: Chairman Murray Holds a Hearing on The President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Education Budget Request

Yesterday, Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on The President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Education Budget Request with Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

In her opening statement, Chairman Murray explained that the nation is currently facing an education deficit, and described the dangers of failing to make critical investments in education. 

Murray Duncan Hearing

“…right now, our nation is facing an education deficit. College is becoming more and more unaffordable for American families. Workforce training and adult education programs must do a better job of lining our workforce up with the skills needed to succeed in our economy. And many schools are struggling to get students ready for success in the classroom and future careers.... While a quality education can be a pathway toward success, the inverse is also true. Failing to make important investments, so that every child has access to a world-class education, can weaken opportunities for Americans. And it hinders our nation’s ability to lead on the world stage. Where there is an education deficit, there is also an opportunity deficit. So, one of the challenges for this Committee is to find ways to better invest in education,Murray said.

Watch Chairman Murray’s opening statement here.

Read Chairman Murray’s opening statement here.

In his testimony, Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan highlighted opportunity gaps in America that can be closed through education investments.

“The bad news is that we still have unacceptable opportunity gaps in America. And it will be very difficult to close these gaps when federal discretionary funding for education, excluding Pell grants, remains below the 2010 level. Our international competitors are simply not making the mistake of disinvesting in education, and their students are making more progress than America's students, endangering our competitiveness and our prosperity. In a knowledge-based global economy, closing these opportunity gaps and strengthening our competitiveness are among our most urgent challenges. Falling further behind would hurt our country economically for generations to come. So I appeal to all of you to continue America's long-standing bipartisan commitment to investing in education. Despite the real educational progress we have made as a nation, large opportunity gaps remain at a time when education is more important than ever to accelerating economic progress, increasing upper mobility, and reducing social inequality,” Duncan said.

Read Duncan’s testimony here.


Chairman Murray asked Duncan to describe the long term economic impacts that occur if the United States continues to disinvest in students.

“…we live in a globally competitive economy. We live in a flat world. And high-paying, middle-class, high-wage, high-skill jobs are going to go where the most education workforce is. And I think everyone here desperately wants that to be in our communities, in our states, and in our country, and not in other countries. But businesses can move where those knowledge workers are. And I look at every level, and quite frankly, at no level right now are we as a nation where we need to be. So we talked about the early childhood side where we're ranked about 25th in the world in providing that opportunity. Again, no one knows this better than you. But for so many of our children coming from disadvantaged communities, the average child coming from a poor community starts kindergarten in the fall a year to 14 months behind, the average child. And far too often frankly we never catch up. So we have to, you know, get out of the catch up business. We have to level the playing field. The fact that we are 25th in the world, that's no badge of honor. That's early childhood.

“On the K to 12 side on the math and science rankings, we're somewhere usually between 15th and 30th. We're nowhere near where we need to be, again, if our goal is to be number one. And then finally, I think we can all unite behind the goal of leading the world in college graduation rates. That seems to be in all of our mutual self- interest. One generation ago we were first in the world. Today we're 12th. It's interesting. It's not that we've dropped. It's that we've stagnated, we've flatlined and 11 other countries have passed us by. So you look at early childhood, you look at K to 12, you look at higher ed. None of these -- none of these are where we need to be. And we're making some progress. I talked about high school graduation rates are up. College enrollment is up. Those are positive trends, but we are so far from where we need to be. All of us, regardless of politics, regardless of ideology, all of us have to work together to lead the world in education system. And to do that, it can't just be a little tweak. We have to get better faster. We have to work together in ways that put aside politics and ideology,” Duncan responded.

Murray and Duncan also discussed the importance of expanding federal early learning programs to help close opportunity and achievement gaps.

MURRAY: “You talked about early childhood education. You know that's a passion of mine. I really believe that it's that expansion, like the one we do envision in the Strong Start for America's Children Act, would make significant strides in helping us close that opportunity and achievement gaps that we're seeing.

“But I continually hear from some of our friends on the other side that we're too many -- we have too many federal learning programs. I wanted you today to talk and give us a little better understanding of the current unmet need for early learning opportunities and how the proposal in your budget is not duplicative of existing federal programs.”

DUNCAN: “I think, again, all of us can unite that where we have, you know, duplicative efforts where we're wasting money, we shouldn't do that. But at the end of the day, we want to go from about a million young children with access to high-quality pre-K to 2.2 million. So we want to double that. And you can't do that without increased investment. We have to make sure that this is not just access. We have to make sure this is about high quality. We have to hold ourselves accountable. I'm actually proud of HHS and my friend Kathleen Sebelius. They're making folks recompete on the Head Start side so it's not business as usual there. But there is tremendous unmet need. This would not be any kind of federal mandate or top-down thing. We simply want to partner with those governors. Again, more Republican governors than Democrats today, that's fantastic, who are investing.

“What breaks my heart, Chairman Murray, is I travel the country and we do these very unusual meetings, public meetings with CEOs and military leaders and heads of the chambers of commerce, faith-based community. In virtually every state I go to where governors are putting their scarce tax dollars behind increasing access to early learning, there's still waiting lists of 6,000, 10,000, 12,000, 15,000 kids. So these are families who want to do the right thing who are looking to have their children be prepared to enter kindergarten, and we collectively as a nation simply aren't providing these opportunities. It's not good enough.”

MURRAY: “So expanding the federal program will help support those governors who are providing it...”

DUNCAN: “It would just be -- it'd just be a partnership. States could, you know, would -- if they want to extend their reach, leverage our resources or their resources, they'd have that opportunity. If they don't want to do that, they'd have the right not to do that. But I can't tell you how many governors have said, you know, we're working hard here, we're trying. We need help. We need help. And again, this is Republican and Democrat.”