Read Eric Cantor’s ‘major’ education speech

Sep 24, 2013 by

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor delivered what his office called a major policy speech about education reform at Freire Charter School in Philadelphia.

He spoke about what he said was the importance of expanding charter schools (though he didn’t mention that when judged by standardized test scores — the metric school reformers love to use — they don’t do any better than traditional public schools). He also spoke about growing school voucher programs, like the one in Louisiana (though he didn’t  mention that many students in that program are using public funds to attend private Christian schools that teach that dinosaurs co-existed with humans and that there is no accountability system in place at many voucher schools).

Cantor, who, I remind you, was speaking in Philadelphia, said not a single word  in his speech about the “grim new normal” in the public school system in Philadelphia, caused by the state’s failure to adequately fund the district. After months of financial chaos in which a “doomsday budget” was passed and 24 schools were closed, students returned to classes this month having to deal with the fallout from more than 3,800 personnel and other cuts.The result: Most district schools have no dedicated guidance counselor or nurse. Assistant principals are in short supply. Classes are overcrowded, sports and other programs have been cut back, and that’s not the half of it.

Here’s what Cantor did say in his remarks as prepared for delivery, provided by his congressional office.

Thank You, Tyrone, for that kind introduction. What an amazing young man. Thank you all for that welcome and for being here today. I’d also like to thank my colleague, Congressman Pat Meehan for joining us as well. He is a good friend and a strong advocate in Congress for the citizens of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Today, I look around this gymnasium and I see students who probably think the homework will never end, and are most likely happy for this event, merely to take a break from classes. I know all of you are working hard because you appreciate how important education is to your future. I see teachers and administrators who only sleep well at night when they feel they’ve done everything they can for the children they are charged with protecting and educating.

And I see supportive parents and family members who devote hours of their day helping and encouraging their kids. It’s an amazing thing to behold.

In places like this all over the country- at schools like the Freire School – everyone knows there is nothing more important than raising well-educated children. Your hard work and dedication is making a difference. It is providing the opportunity for a quality education, which is the key to paving the way to a brighter future for our kids. And the model of education opportunity here at Freire is what I’d like to talk to you about today.

As many of you already know, the namesake of this school, Paulo Freire, was a brilliant educator. Freire was born into poverty in 1921 in Brazil. By the age of 10, the Great Depression was in full swing in Brazil, and his family suffered. Two years later, his father passed away and his mother was left to raise him alone.

As a member of the underclass in his country, Paulo Freire was not afforded the same education opportunities as the wealthier children in Brazil. As a result, he fell four grades behind in school. Freire said: ‘I wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t lack of interest on my part. My social condition didn’t allow me to have an education.’

Eventually things improved for his family, and Paulo Freire worked hard. He earned a law degree and achieved a great deal. But his story and his struggle remain all too familiar to many American families as we approach what would have been his 100th birthday.

Like Paulo Freire in Brazil, children in America born into poverty often find themselves trapped in failing schools. And many have no way out. The truth is, millions of low-income kids in our country are being denied the education opportunities afforded to wealthier children.

The lack of education opportunities cause too many American kids to drop out of school. Most remain in poverty. Others choose a life of crime and some end up in jail. This is the greatest civil rights challenge of our time, and it is up to us to solve it.

For too long, the federal government has tried to respond to this problem by spending more money, demanding more control from Washington. Since the mid-1960’s, the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on improving schools in low-income areas with little to no effect. Student achievement is not improving and too many parents and children are left helpless.

Today in America, nearly a quarter of public school students do not graduate high school. In our largest cities, only half of public high school students graduate on time. And our test rates still lag behind most of the industrialized world. This is simply unacceptable.

The time has come for a serious commitment to education reform in America. Parents, communities, and states must be given the chance to chart a better course and finally solve the problems that Washington has failed to solve.

Since the 1990’s, states like Pennsylvania, through their charter school laws and the establishment of schools like this one, have begun to offer solutions to this problem.

This school provides a safe environment for students to learn, and has frankly given parents hope. Just today, I had an opportunity to tour this magnificent school and meet two of those parents – James and Crystal Jones and their son Elijah, who is a student here at Freire.

Two years ago, Elijah was a student at another school and James and Crystal were worried that he just wasn’t getting the help and education he deserved. Elijah has a speech impediment and needs a supportive environment and access to a strong speech therapist. James and Crystal told me that since coming to Freire, Elijah enjoys encouragement without being provided a crutch. Elijah’s acceptance here at Freire is an opportunity that could change his life.

James and Crystal want to see their son have a chance to succeed, and the Freire School is giving him that chance.

Elijah, I am really excited about your future. Mr. and Mrs. Jones, you are two courageous role models for your son and I thank you for being here today.

It’s important for us to remember Elijah’s story and the stories so many of you could tell about how this school has made a difference in your lives. Because, in too many cities and towns across America, children – especially those living in poverty – don’t have the opportunity to attend a school like this. And in too many cases their hopes for a brighter future are already dimming.

Believe it or not, there are powerful forces propping up the status quo and thereby denying these kids an opportunity like you have.

Read Eric Cantor’s ‘major’ education speech.

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