Published Online: July 12, 2010

Duncan: Congress Needs to Act Now on School Money

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addresses the audience during forum on innovation in education at Aviation High School in Des Moines, Wash., on July 9.
—Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times/AP

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged Congress to act soon to increase education funding because cash-strapped states can't wait until the fall to determine if they must lay off thousands of teachers.

Duncan made his remarks Friday at a forum on innovation in education at Aviation High School in Des Moines, a small college prep school that focuses on science, technology and mathematics.

At the forum, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who joined Duncan, said she hopes fellow lawmakers spent their Fourth of July break hearing from parents and teachers, like she did. Murray said if they got the message about how urgent the school budget crisis is, they will return to Washington, D.C., with the drive to find more money for schools.

A proposal to send billions more to the states has hit a number of roadblocks.

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For more on federal education policy, visit the Politics K-12 Blog.

The U.S. House has proposed cutting money from Race to the Top and other Duncan initiatives in order to send $10 billion to the states to keep 140,000 teachers in the classroom, and about $5 billion to shore up the Pell Grant program, which helps low-income students pay for college.

Murray and Duncan both said many different proposals to pay for the emergency dollars are on the table.

"He and I have to go back to Washington and make this work," the senator said.

Several dozen teachers and others held signs and chanted outside the school to protest Race to the Top and demand changes in the upcoming overhaul of the No Child Left Behind act. Some people inside the auditorium also expressed skepticism about education reform.

Susan Zupan, an elementary school teacher from Chicago and a delegate with the American Federation of Teachers, protests against Arne Duncan, outside Aviation High School.
—Ken Lambert /The Seattle Times/AP

"I'm very concerned. We have a lot of kids who don't know how to engage with schools like this," said Don Rivers, a Seattle man who works for an organization that monitors school improvement. Rivers is also a candidate for Congress in Washington's 7th district.

Students packed the non-air conditioned auditorium on a steamy summer afternoon for a chance to meet Duncan and show off their school, which is one of the state's most unique. They spoke of the way their teachers taught them to not be afraid of trying new things and skills they picked up while believing they were just building rockets or doing chemistry experiments.

"The only way to learn is by failing," said Navid Shafa, whose remark inspired adults on the stage and in the audience to talk about education innovation and the need for experimentation and potential failure.

Duncan said he was impressed by students and teachers at Aviation High School and would like to see a hundred more schools like it across the country.

"This is a model for the country, absolutely," he said, adding that the administration is interested in both charter schools and other innovative approaches.

State education officials see the school as an example of what they hope to accomplish if the state wins a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's competitive Race to the Top program.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said that if Duncan sees how innovative some of Washington's public schools are, he'll recognize that creativity can live outside of charter schools. Washington state voters have voted repeatedly against charter schools.

Gregoire was at the National Governors Association meeting on Friday so U.S. Sen. Patty Murray brought Duncan to the south Seattle high school.

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