March 9, 2010 — Recovery of the American economy will not be possible unless education becomes a higher priority, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in testimony before a Senate committee today.
Van Roekel, who represents NEA’s 3.2 million educator members, told members of the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions that there is an inextricable link between investing in education and building a strong, competitive nation.
“An investment in education is the long-term answer to solving America’s economic woes,” said Van Roekel. “Higher earnings of educated workers mean higher tax payments at the local, state and federal levels. Investing in education will help prevent harmful cuts in programs, preserve jobs and reduce soaring unemployment rates.”
Van Roekel’s testimony comes as Congress gets ready to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act. NEA has developed guidelines for changing the law so it helps schools improve education and close achievement gaps and can renew the promise to America’s children.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) agreed with Van Roekel during the committee meeting, saying that not only is the education of all students “a civil rights or moral imperative,” but also, “an economic issue.”
Van Roekel elaborated, speaking about the achievement gap that persists among minority and low-income students and their White, stable-income counterparts. “Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce. We must address the opportunity gaps to strengthen our economy and build the educated workforce necessary to compete in the global economy of the 21st century. We cannot leave a generation of students behind by continuing to deny them the best education this country has to offer.”
“Children are not experiments,” added Van Roekel. “Policies on accountability, assessments and transforming low performing schools into great public schools should follow research—not dogma.” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) expressed excitement that work is beginning on ESEA’s reauthorization. “Our country cannot continue to be competitive in the global economy if we do not have an educated workforce.” He acknowledged, “we’re playing catch up.” Speaking to the committee, Charles Butt, chairman of the San Antonio, Texas-based H-E-B grocery store chain spoke about the achievement gaps from a business perspective, saying they “impose the equivalent of a permanent national recession. It’s devastatingly unaffordable for our nation.”