Pelosi Floor Speech on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
“Thank you, Madam Speaker. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and congratulate him on his great leadership as he has taken the helm as our Democratic Ranking Member on the Education and Workforce Committee. Madam Speaker, you know education is the single most important investment a nation can make in its future and a family can make in its children. Nothing returns more money to the Treasury than the investment in education, whether it's earliest childhood education, k-12, higher education, post-grad, lifetime learning. And nothing contributes more to the success of our children than education, which gives them a chance to succeed.
“That is why, in 1965, Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, one of the great pillars of President Johnson's war on poverty. President Johnson told the people gathering at the bill signing, that: ‘From our very beginnings as a nation, we have felt a fierce commitment to the ideal of education for everyone. It fixed itself into our democratic creed.’ The Republican legislation on the floor today makes a mockery of this legislation's legacy and hollows out the foundation of our democracy – an educated and empowered citizenry.
“And here's how: for the first time in more than 50 years, a majority of public school students in our country live in poverty. Too many children are getting left behind. This Republican bill slams the door of opportunity for students striving to earn an education. How will students achieve equality of opportunity without equality of education? How will students be able to maintain America's innovation and leadership if they attend schools without a reliable technological infrastructure? This proposed legislation eviscerates our investments in the future and is a monumental step backward in keeping our promise to America's children.
“Republicans are turning back the clock on civil rights protections, academic achievement, funding for struggling schools, access to college prep curricula for underserved children, and they are turning back the clock on students of color, students with disabilities, students who are homeless, who are living with foster families, and migrant students learning English as a second language. This bill guts resources for the most impoverished schools and gives those resources to the richest schools. Rather than increasing investments in schools, this legislation diverts resources for critical programs away from our schools most in need. Rather than provide a pathway for success to help our children prepare for the future, this legislation locks in the federal budget cuts for the rest of the decade. Rather than ensure funds are used for the classroom and teaching, this legislation lets limited resources be used for other purposes, such as tax cuts for the wealthy or sports stadiums.
“This bill does nothing to invest in early education; does nothing to ensure lifetime learning; does nothing to update classroom technology and infrastructure; and does nothing to boost the STEM curriculum. President Obama has already declared his intention to veto this recycled, reheated, retrograde, warmed-over stew Republican legislation that lacks the support of the civil rights community, of the English as a Second Language community, teachers, education advocates, and the US Chamber of Commerce.
“Instead, we should take up the alternative bill put forth by Mr. Scott. His bill, in its wisdom, protects students’ rights, guarantees access to world-class education for all students, supports teachers and school leaders with better resources. The substitute legislation put forth by Mr. Scott empowers schools and districts to tailor to local needs and ensures states set high standards and goals so students are career and college-ready. It is our moral obligation as a country to ensure that all children have equal access to a well-rounded, world-class education, and Mr. Scott's substitute does just that. You know, he has presented an alternative that fulfills the promise of this landmark legislation passed in 1965, another 50-year anniversary, which is to ensure that access to high-quality education is the right of every student and not just some. We must honor that responsibility.
“Madam Speaker, frequently people ask me: ‘What motivated you to be involved in politics?’ I am a mom with five children, and I want, of course, the best for my children, as every parent does. And I saw that they had tender, loving care, the opportunity for education and the rest. But the best for our children – each of us – is that every other child has access to education. We do no favor to our children and, in my case, grandchildren, if we say we want the best for you and not pay attention to the needs of other children in our society. What kind of transitioning from one generation to the next is it if we say: ‘My kids get the best,’ and in some cases in this bill, at the expense of other children?
“It's just not right. It's not the moral thing to do. It's not the patriotic thing to do. It doesn't honor our Founders' commitment to a democracy which calls upon an educated population. So we must honor all of our responsibilities – personal and civic – and reject this bill to ensure that quality education is the right of every child in our country. I thank Bobby Scott, our Ranking Member, for giving us that opportunity, and urge my colleagues all to vote aye on his substitute. With that, I yield back the balance of my time.”