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Public Statements

Troops to Teachers

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BENNET. Madam President, as you know, I have been to the floor many times in the last several years to talk about the dysfunction that reigns in this place too often. But today I am here on a happier occasion because I want to celebrate an accomplishment, a bipartisan accomplishment that I think is very important. We were able to work together earlier this week to improve and expand something called Troops to Teachers. Nothing makes a greater difference to student learning than great teaching. Our teachers are critical to our kids' success and, to a greater extent, our country's competitiveness in the economy.

America's future depends on our ability to recruit and retain great teachers. And by the way, we are falling down on the job. Fifty percent of the people who go into teaching leave the profession in the first 5 years, which means we don't have the benefit of the experience they have gained over that period of time. And I will save for another day what we need to do about this, but for today's purposes let me observe we have done almost nothing--virtually nothing--as a country to change the way we think about recruiting teachers, retaining teachers, inspiring teachers in this country since we had a labor market that discriminated against women and gave them two professional choices, one being a teacher, or a nurse.

Thank goodness, those days are long gone. But we have not modernized our system to make it as attractive to people as it needs to be if we are serious about educating the next generation of Americans. I believe it is our duty in that context to ensure we support new and existing pathways to the teaching profession. We should be making it easier, not harder, for those who want to serve our country in America's classrooms. Troops to Teachers is one of those undertakings. It has been recruiting and placing veterans and service men and women in classrooms around the country since 1994. It brings veterans and servicemembers into some of the hardest-to-serve areas in our country.

But in Colorado and across the United States we have school districts near military installations that have not been eligible to participate in Troops to Teachers. These barriers send exactly the wrong message. If veterans want to make a difference in a student's life, they should be able to teach where they are needed most. That is why in 2009 I worked with Senator McCain and his staff to introduce legislation to make it easier for veterans to participate and continue their service in our classrooms.

These changes to the program will increase the number of schools eligible to participate by 49 percent. In Colorado alone, that means it will open over 1,000 of our schools to veterans and servicemembers who want to participate. As someone who has spent a lot of time in the classrooms as a former superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, the benefits of Troops to Teachers for our students are crystal clear to me.

When he talks about this program, Senator McCain often mentions his English teacher--Mr. William B. Ravenel--an Army veteran who served with General Patton in World War II. Because there is no way I could say it better, I wish to quote my friend from Arizona.

Every child should be blessed with a teacher like I had, and to learn at institutions with high academic standards and codes of conduct that reinforce the values their parents try to impart to them. Many students do have that opportunity. But too many do not. And government should be concerned with their fate.

I could not agree more with Senator John McCain. Our military is the strongest in the world not because of our weapons or our tanks but because of the men and women who choose to serve. Troops to Teachers enlists their talents, their drive, their commitment to help make America's system of public education once again the driver of the American dream.

I am glad to have done this bipartisan work with Senator McCain to pass this amendment, and I wish to thank Senator McCain and his staff who worked so hard to get this over the finish line.

Finally, I would like to thank Senator Webb for his leadership on this initiative, as well as Chairman Levin and the staff of the Armed Services Committee.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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