WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 9, 2011
Good afternoon to our guests and welcome back, Secretary Duncan, to the Education and the Workforce Committee. We realize your time is valuable and we appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today regarding the president’s budget proposal and the current state of education in the nation.
Our country is facing a historic fiscal crisis. After years of neglect and mismanagement, our national debt has exceeded $14 trillion and continues to climb at a rapid pace.
Despite this year’s projected budget deficit of $1.6 trillion, the administration has put forward a plan for the next decade that includes $8.7 trillion in new spending, $1.6 trillion in new taxes, and $13 trillion in new debt. Proposing a budget that once again spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much is not the kind of leadership America deserves.
I am disappointed to see this lack of leadership in the administration’s budget proposal for the Department of Education, which includes a request for $48.8 billion in so-called “non-Pell discretionary spending.” This is a new turn of phrase for Washington that attempts to conceal the true costs associated with this proposal.
Behind this gimmick lies an additional request for $28.6 billion in discretionary spending for the Pell Grant program, as well as $12.6 billion in mandatory costs – a total request of $41.2 billion for the program. Here is the bottom line: the department is asking to spend nearly $90 billion during the next fiscal year – a 31 percent increase in the department’s budget from the time the president took office.
I shouldn’t have to tell you that this kind of spending is unsustainable and keeps Pell Grants on the path to bankruptcy. We have to make tough choices now to ensure this important program remains available for the students who need it most.
Winning the future is a goal we all share, but it can’t be won through record spending and record debt. It is time we changed the status quo, not only in how we approach our fiscal future, but also in the way we support our nation’s education system.
It is no secret our current education system is failing. We all know the statistics of high school and college dropouts and test scores that leave students unprepared to tackle the challenges they will confront both in the classroom and in the workplace.
Secretary Duncan, I want to reiterate my appreciation of your ongoing efforts to reach across the aisle for the betterment of the nation’s classrooms. Although we may not always see eye to eye, you and I share a belief that the current system is broken and in desperate need of repair. As we continue to work on reforms that focus on what’s best for students, parents, teachers, and communities, we must first answer a fundamental question: What is the proper role of the federal government in education?
Despite the near tripling of overall per pupil funding since 1965, national academic performance has not improved. Math and reading scores have largely gone flat, graduation rates have stagnated, and researchers have found serious shortcomings with many federal education programs.
Additionally, the volume of rules and reporting requirements associated with federal spending has skyrocketed. During a recent hearing in this Committee, we learned from school officials and local leaders that the regulatory burden created by federal spending often outweighs any potential benefits. Race to the Top, while well intended, has exacerbated this tension, leaving schools and states even more frustrated with federal intervention in our classrooms.
The department’s activism in higher education is also troubling. As you know, Mr. Secretary, a bipartisan coalition of members believes the gainful employment regulations are the wrong approach to encouraging accountability and transparency in higher education. I strongly urge you, especially in light of last month’s overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, to withdraw this job-destroying proposal.
The time has come to chart a different course. As we work to answer the question about the appropriate role for the federal government in education, one thing is for sure: it must be less costly and less intrusive.
Across the nation, Americans have demanded Washington make tough choices and real sacrifices to get our budget in order and put our nation back on the path to long-term prosperity. The day of reckoning is here, and the time to demonstrate the leadership our country desperately needs is now.
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