On July 27, just a few days before the nation was expected to run up against the debt limit, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Committee. Given the timing of the hearing, spending priorities were a popular topic among senators from both parties.
“I believe that to bring federal deficits under control, we must be willing to make some tough but necessary budgetary choices,” said Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), who also chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which is responsible for rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act. “But we must be just as willing to say ‘no’ to foolish and destructive choices. And this is especially true when it comes to funding the education of our children.”
Harkin noted that funding for thirty-seven education programs was eliminated in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, totaling more than $900 million. He specifically expressed concern over the elimination of the “successful” Striving Readers initiative, the federal government’s only comprehensive literacy program.
Like Harkin, most senators from both parties underscored the importance of education, but some were more willing to ask the U.S. Department of Education to do its part to curb spending than others were. “I am gravely concerned that the Department of Education has delayed some of the tough choices that are necessary to ensure national economic stability,” said Senator Richard Shelby, top Republican on the subcommittee. “We all understand the critical role of education in our society and its impact on our nation’s ability to compete in a global economic environment. However, our nation is $14 trillion in debt and, I think, we must rein in spending.”
During his testimony, Duncan outlined several priorities for the Obama administration, including protecting funding for Title I and special education while expanding reform programs such as the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation programs. Duncan also stressed the importance of early learning and college-completion programs.
Duncan also used the opportunity to stress the importance of investing in education to secure the nation’s economic future:
Like America’s hard-working families, we understand that you can’t sacrifice the future to pay for the present, and nothing is more important to a family’s future and to our future as a nation than education. … Our children are being cheated out of a world-class education because our generation is unable or unwilling to make the tough choices necessary to protect them. The current debate about the debt ceiling and the deficit is not just about budgets and numbers. It’s really about the fundamental promise at the heart of the middle-class American dream. … Our children are counting on us to prepare them for the future. Business owners are counting on us to produce the workforce they need to compete in the new economy. Families are counting on us to open the doors to opportunity for every child, regardless of background, income, ability, or disability. We cannot let them down. … The path to a strong future starts in our nation’s classrooms.
Video of the complete hearing is available at http://1.usa.gov/ntaKAW.