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U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings Testifies Before House Appropriations Subcommittee


Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings testified before the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee to discuss the Department of Educationís fiscal year 2009 budget request. Following is her prepared opening statement:

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for welcoming me here today.

All of us agree that in todayís competitive world, developing human capital is a top priority. We also know that we have limited resources to invest and that our primary role at the federal level has always been to serve our neediest students, such as those from low income families, those with disabilities, and those learning English as a second language. Accordingly, we must ensure that taxpayer dollars are allocated in the most effective and efficient ways.

Since becoming Secretary, Iíve traveled the country discussing No Child Left Behind and gaining insights on ways to strengthen and improve this law. Iíve been to almost all of the states that this committee represents.

Everywhere I go, Iíve been talking with educators and policymakers. They are deservedly proud that student achievement is rising under No Child Left Behind and that gaps between poor and minority students are closing. In addition, all share common challenges.

First, educators need proven strategies to strengthen instructionóespecially in reading. Second, they need resources to help students and schools improve. Finally, they need help to make college more accessible and affordable for students of every background and income level.

These are the priority investments in the Presidentís budget request.

First, instruction. One thing we know for sure is that we will not be successful in education until every child can read. Reading opens the door to every other subject, and is a critical foundation for all other learning. Thatís why Iím pleased that the Presidentís budget restores funding for the Reading First program to 1 billion dollarsóthe level you supported for five years.

In response to concerns raised about the departmentís initial management of the Reading First program, I adopted every recommendation my Inspector General issued in September 2006. Shortly thereafter, I put in place new leadership to oversee this program, and enhanced guidance on how it should be administered. I implemented a new system to strengthen the peer review process, and I took further steps to prevent conflicts of interest.

Reading First builds on more than 20 years of independent research funded by this Congress, and conducted by the National Institutes of Health. If ever a program was rooted in science and research, this is it.

The 60 percent cut in the 2008 appropriation for Reading First is devastating our elementary schools. Itís one of the top concerns Iíve heard in every state I visit. And I urge you to support the Presidentís request to restore funding so that nearly one million students can once again benefit from this program.

Second, struggling students and schools. Iím sure that youíve heard concerns raised that No Child Left Behind is labeling too many schools as quote unquote ďfailing.Ē In actuality, no part of this law ever labels schools as failing. What No Child Left Behind has done is to help identify about 2,300 out of nearly 100,000 schools nationwide that have missed annual targets for five or more years. The fact that just 2 percent of schools are chronic underperformers does not seem wildly overstated, particularly when you consider that only half of minority students graduate from high school on time.

To help educators improve struggling schools, our budget provides nearly $500 million in school improvement grants. It raises Title I funding for high-poverty schools by $406 million. It more than doubles the size of the Teacher Incentive Fund by providing $200 million to attract our most effective teachers to work in our neediest schools, and reward them for results. And it provides additional funds for students who need extra help, including an increase of nearly $5 billion since 2001 for students with disabilities and an increase of $30 million for those with limited English skills over last year.

In addition, as we triage low-performing schools, we must also offer lifelines for families. Thatís why the President called for a new Pell Grants for Kids program in his State of the Union address. This program offers $300 million in scholarships to enable poor students in struggling schools to transfer to a new school of their choice.

This program begins to answer one of parentsí most vexing questions: If Iíve given my public school every chance to meet my childís needs, but it hasnít, what options do I now have?

Third, higher education. All of us know that making a college education more affordable is a real concern for students and families. So Iím pleased that our budget raises the Pell grant award to $4,800 this year, the largest amount ever.

Iím proud that this is an issue of strong bipartisan consensus. But as we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, we must remember that more money is not the only answer to questions of access and affordability. We must also curb the dramatic rise of tuition costs, and streamline the financial aid process.

Finally, focusing on these priorities has required that we make tough choices, just like you must do every year. And accordingly, using the Office of Management and Budgetís PART process we have redirected funding away from programs that are ineffective, duplicative, and small in scale, and we have eliminated earmarks, in keeping with the Presidentís government-wide call.

In closing, especially because this may be my last opportunity to appear before you, I want to thank you for your commitment to improving our schools. Chairman Obey, by choosing to lead this subcommittee, in addition to the full Appropriations Committee youíve shown dedication that benefits all of us under your jurisdiction.

In my experience, education has been an issue that unites people of every race and background, from both sides of the aisle, especially as our global economy places greater demands on our schools. Not only are many of us parents, but we also realize that even as administrations come and go, schools remain open. And educators and policymakers all over the country and in this body remain committed to extending opportunity to every corner of our nation. I look forward to working with you to support them in that essential endeavor.

Thank you. I would be happy to answer your questions.


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