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Public Statements

Congressional Black Caucus

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BUTTERFIELD. Let me thank you, Mr. Jeffries, for yielding me this time, and thank you for your leadership here in the House of Representatives.

Since you have arrived here in the House, you have just done extraordinary work. You've taken the time to come to this floor and to educate and inform the masses of our people about the great, important issues facing our Nation. So I want to thank you for all of your work.

I also thank Mr. Horsford, the other gentleman who has taken the time to convene this special hour of presentations. I want to thank you for all of the work that you do. You are both freshmen, but you have the personalities and the abilities of someone who has been in this body for many years, so thank you very much.

The Congressional Black Caucus this evening has chosen to talk about the important subject of education. I am a strong supporter--a proponent--of strong public education. Mr. Speaker, there is no investment that we can make as a country that is more important than investing in children and investing in their education and in their higher education.

Regrettably, there are some people in this body who think otherwise. They may say that they don't think otherwise, but their actions demonstrate every day that they do not have a strong commitment to supporting our educational system in this country. There are even some Members of this Chamber who, regrettably, have said from time to time that they want to defund and eliminate the U.S. Department of Education. They feel that the educational responsibility of government belongs to the States and not to the Federal Government. That is so unfortunate, but I want to encourage all of us who serve in this body to work together and stay together and to try to promote public education in every way that we can.

Now, Mr. Jeffries, I cannot speak about the State of New York with any authority or about the borough of Brooklyn--I know you do that very well in that you've been there for many years--but I can speak to my home State of North Carolina.

We have a demonstrated record of commitment and excellence in public education, both at the elementary and high school levels, as well as at the college level. We started way back in 1868 when our constitution was enacted. In the State constitution, we made sure that there was a provision that guaranteed a public education for every child in our State. Ensuring that our students have access to quality education has long been a principle of my State and of those that I associate with. So I have firsthand knowledge of our educational system. I know about the dedicated educators that we have in North Carolina, and I want to just encourage them and thank them for their service, and I urge them to keep on doing what they're doing.

Mr. Speaker, I came from a family of educators. My mother was a classroom teacher. She taught school for 48 long years. Many people want to know how a single person could be in the classroom for that long, but my response is that, during those days, you did not need a college degree in order to be a classroom teacher--only a passionate commitment and a high school diploma.

I understand the importance of education, but even the most devoted and capable educators must have the resources to provide our children with quality education. We now face a defining moment for future generations of Americans in which some Republicans want to fix this budget by cutting funding for our students in schools. At the same time, we continue to be outpaced by other countries that continue to increase their educational investments.

In this country, the world's most prosperous Nation, 25 percent of our children do not graduate from high school. More than 90 million adults have inadequate literacy skills. The numbers are even more startling for low-income children and African American children, many of whom live in my district. Less than 8 percent of students in advanced placement math or science courses are African American. Fewer than half of African American students graduate from high school on time, and that must change.

Despite these statistics, data show that investments in educational programs like Title I and IDEA and Race to the Top and Head Start and TRIO are instrumental in preparing our students to compete globally, but draconian cuts through sequestration have rolled back discretionary Education Department funding below the 2004 level and have gutted many of those programs.

My State will lose $25 million in funding for primary and secondary education this year; 38,000 fewer students will be served in my State; and 350 education jobs will be in danger. The Ronald McNair TRIO program for doctoral students from disadvantaged backgrounds, which was cut at Elizabeth City State University, is just one example. Many State legislatures, including that of my State, are cutting State education budgets at the same time. We must find ways to address our fiscal challenges without placing the burden on our children and our teachers.

While our goal must be to ultimately reauthorize the ESEA and the Higher Education Act, there are many ways we can help right now. We must preserve the maximum Pell Grant and keep interest rates on student loans low to enable low-income students to attend college. We must sustain funding for Race to the Top grants. In North Carolina, those grants have developed stronger curriculum in math and science, and they are working. They have strengthened teacher training and improved early childhood education.

Finally--and I will close--we must also protect other STEM funding streams through funding for NSF and NIH, which support innovative research in my district at Duke University, East Carolina University, Elizabeth City State University, and at my alma mater of North Carolina Central University. We must also support bills like H.R. 595, the Veterans Education Equity Act, which I introduced to resolve an inequity in existing law that unintentionally allots more education funds to veterans who are enrolled in private colleges than those in public institutions.

The bottom line, Mr. Speaker, is that education must be a priority. We must seize every opportunity to increase support for public education and not decrease it. Public education should be off-limits to budget cuts.

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