Secretary Arne Duncan Visits Wakefield High School, Arlington, VA
February 10, 2009

Secretary Duncan made his first visit to a public high school since assuming office and used the occasion to urge swift passage of the stimulus legislation currently being considered by Congress. See the transcript (below) and press release.

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Duncan: Where we're at over the next 24, 48, 72 hours is going to shape education in America for years to come. This is a staggering opportunity. We're at a time of economic crisis, everybody here knows that. I would argue that we're at a time of education crisis.

I want to thank Congressman Moran and his colleagues for extraordinary leadership on this issue. I want to thank our national leaders who are here today for their courage and commitment. And if we do the right thing, not just for our economy, but for our children, we have a chance to do something absolutely extraordinary. I would call this a historic opportunity, once in a lifetime.

And the stimulus package talks about a couple different things. It talks about saving and creating jobs. And there's a study that came out literally yesterday from the University of Washington that talked about as many as six hundred thousand education jobs being lost, because states are just, states are struggling now. And imagine if class size goes from twenty eight to forty, and imagine if folks can't go to college because those college professors have been laid off, and there's just no one there to teach. That would be absolutely devastating short-term, and absolutely devastating long-term to our, to our country.

And so there's a huge opportunity to save and preserve and create jobs, and I'm just convinced we have to educate our way to a better economy, that's the only way long-term to get there.

Secondly, we've talked a lot about the capital needs, and it… we've talked about thanks to Congressman Moran and his team, his colleagues, there's twenty billion dollars for capital for school construction, not just K-12, but higher ed as well, in their bill. Right now, there's zero dollars in the Senate bill. That, to me, is staggering. It makes no sense to me that we don't see the huge stimulative impact of putting people to work now. We've tremendous unmet need well beyond that twenty billion dollars. And there's nothing more important we can do than create facilities that our students need to learn and reach their full potential.

And so as this discussion goes into conference, what comes out of that conference is just of staggering importance, and it's so important that all of our leadership here understands that, that all of our students and their parents and the community leaders understand what's really at stake here.

Third, there's a fund that we're calling a "Race to the Top" fund, which is really trying to encourage states and school districts to think about how we compete, not just with students down the block, but how we better compete with children in India and China, 'cause we're really in a global economy today. And so how can we come up with college-ready, career-ready, internationally-benchmarked standards, how do we come up with the data systems behind that to really track student progress, how do we come up with better assessments, and how do we better recruit and and train and retain great, great teachers like we see here in Wakefield.

And so, so those three buckets of work, saving and preserving hundreds of thousands of jobs, trying to put people back to work for desperately needed capital programs like here at Wakefield. And it's interesting talking to the school board members here--this is a community that's been very, very supportive of school construction, very generous. They understand, they value education here. But they simply cannot go back to their taxpayers for another bond issue today, because things are too tough. And it's not a lack of will, it's not a lack of commitment, it's just they can't do it. And we have a, again, an extraordinary opportunity to step up.

And if we can do that, and if we can push this "Race to the Top" fund, we have a chance to transform education in the country. And as a country, we used to be number one in the world. And unfortunately, that's not true today. And you wonder why our economy is struggling--in part, I think it's because we lost our way, at some point, on education. And it's not so much that we're dropping, it's that we're stagnating, we've been flat, and other countries are just passing us by.

And so, with the President's leadership, with a bipartisan Congress that's really committed to education, with support of great, great students and teachers and parents and principals around the country, we have a once in a lifetime historic opportunity to make things better for our children, to stimulate the economy short-term, and long-term to better educate our way to a stronger economy, which is the only way we can do it.

So I thank you for having me today, it's really, really, this is, the part of my job I love the most is visiting schools, and hope to do a lot more of it going forward. I was in schools almost every day in Chicago, and, again, just appreciate the example of commitment, the example of excellence, the commitment to continue to improve that we see here. And if every school's doing that, we're going to be in great, great shape going forward.

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Last Modified: 02/18/2009