“The school was made for the student—not the student for the school.”
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) made a passionate appeal on the Senate floor in favor of school choice, which rescues kids from failing schools. Senator Tuberville drew upon his 40 years of experience in education by diagnosing the problems with our current system, and by advocating for the improvements that the competitive pressure of school choice can bring.
Senator Tuberville’s speech can be found below, and his full remarks can be viewed here.
“I come to the floor today to express my very strong support for school choice. Sunday was the start of School Choice Week. Tens of thousands of parents, students, and educators are going to celebrate the accomplishments of the school choice movement. I spent 40 years in education. I was a government school-teacher – including in higher education. I was a coach and I was a mentor for 40 years. I have watched the school choice movement grow and change many lives. I’ve seen the changes that school choice has brought for students across our great country.
When I first started in education 40 years ago, there was no opportunity for school choice. Homeschooling was very rare, but our government schools were in better shape back then. Homeschooling today is practically like attending a small school. Today, there are about two million kids being homeschooled across our country. Homeschooling is the fastest growing form of education in America.
It’s growing because parents recognize that our schools are failing our kids. It’s time for lawmakers across this country at every level, including us, to recognize that our schools are failing. Over the past 40 years, I’ve watched our education systems decline with my own eyes. I’ve visited schools, parents, and principals in 49 states and American Samoa. What I saw sometimes was absolutely shocking.
And for today, it is the main reason that I ran for this seat here in the United States Senate. Education wasn’t just a local problem – it was a national problem. By now, it’s undeniable that our K -12 education system is in a crisis – because of job protections and teachers’ unions. We spend more money on education in the United States of America than any other country. But we’re not in first place. We’re not even close, and that’s a shame.
Before the pandemic, we were 8th in reading, 11th in science, and 30th in math. You can’t blame that on the pandemic. Some like to. This has been going on for a long time even before the pandemic. It’s been getting worse and worse and worse. Last year, we had the worst ACT scores in 30 years. Let me repeat that. Last year, we had the worst ACT scores in 30 years. Nearly half of all of our students could not meet a single ACT benchmark. The most recent national report card showed a steep drop in reading and math scores in almost every state. These were the lowest scores in the last 20 years. Even Joe Biden’s Secretary of Education called these test scores appalling and unacceptable.
In some cities, there are entire schools where ZERO students can read or do math at the level that they’re in. In Chicago alone, there are 55 schools where ZERO students can read or do math at grade level. Children in these schools are being robbed of their future. Our K-12 system is failing. It’s failing to prepare kids for college or for life. When I talk about education, I often hear from my Democratic colleagues that they argue we don’t spend enough money. Their answer to everything is to spend more. We pay more than any other country in the world. And again, we’re not even in the top 10 with some of these countries that spend a lot less.
We pay $14,000 per student in this country in our public and government schools. In other developed countries, it’s $11,000 or less. So, we’re spending nearly 40 percent more money, but we’re not getting 40 percent better test scores. We’re getting a lot less. We are 26th in math in this country, competing against other countries across the world. If you can’t do math, you can’t survive in today’s world of technology. You can’t pay your bills if you can’t do math. How are we going to compete in a modern high-tech economy if we can’t do math? I don’t think anybody’s thought about that. We just keep going on down the same road.
According to the National Science Foundation, China graduated 1.2 million engineers in 2016. We graduated 131,000. One third of Chinese college students major in engineering. In America, it’s seven percent. How are we going to compete against our biggest adversary, China, if we’re not educated?
Kids in China are learning calculus, and this is in elementary school. Kids in China are learning calculus while our kids are studying pronouns, the 50 genders, and Critical Race Theory. It is a disservice to our kids. And frankly, it’s a national security issue. My Democrat colleagues need to remember that our education system does not exist for the sake of the teachers, principals, administrators or even coaches. It doesn’t exist for that. It’s not about our teachers’ unions. It’s about our students getting an education, learning to read or write, do math, preparing for a future. We forgot about that. But unfortunately, we’ve forgotten about that for a long time.
It’s about preparing kids for life. What an idea. So, what is school choice? School choice just means funding the student instead of the school building. And that’s what we do now. We spend all of our money on these school buildings. We put it in chairs and things that are going on. We put it in teachers and administrators. The money is not going to exactly where it should be going to prepare students for life. It’s the idea that the school was made for the student, not the student for the school.
School choice brings the power of the free market, which is what we’re supposed to be, to our education system. The results benefit everyone. Even kids in the government or private school or public schools. Studies show that school choice means better test scores and better outcomes for students. When we talk about choice, our Democratic colleagues will say ‘if you’re for school choice, then you’re against public and government schools’. That’s not true. I used to teach in a public or government school. I was a member of the teacher’s union. I want our government schools to be the best in the world, the best, not second, not 10th, not 20th, but the best. Our schools, our public and government schools should be good enough to compete with our private schools, which are growing every day.
But right now, most of them are not. They’re not competing against public schools. They don’t have to compete because nothing is going on in a majority of our public schools. It’s just a simple fact. There is a laundry list of things we need to do about our public and government schools. But to make it better, what should be at the top of the list is competition, which is school choice. School choice to go where you want to go. Twenty studies have shown that school choice improves our public schools. This is because school choice forces government schools to compete for students, and that’s what this country is about. It’s about competition. It’s about the opportunity to do what you want, but it’s all built on competition.
Competition makes everyone better. Whether it’s in football, business or just life. Competition makes us all better. Kids deserve teachers.
Students deserve teachers and schools that will compete for them, not for a teacher’s union. But for them, the job is to make our students better and we’re failing. Our child’s education should not be decided on their ZIP code, where they live. Their education should not be decided on their family’s income. That’s not the way this should work. It should be decided by the people who know them best and love them the most. Which is who? Their parents. Parents are a big part of the equation. When I was a coach, I always told my players that this country owes you only one thing. And that’s an opportunity.
I didn’t care who you were when I coached, I didn’t care whether you’re rich or poor, Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish. It didn’t make a difference. I was hired to teach football and to win games. It’s no different in the classroom. Everybody has that opportunity. You just got to take that opportunity and run with it.
So at the end of the day, the key to unlock that opportunity is what? It’s education. If you can’t read and write in our country, in which we are struggling at almost every school, you can’t make it. You’re going to end up living off the government. And that’s not what this country is about. So, our future is built on our kids. If we don’t educate our kids, we won’t have much of a future, and it is really declined. I know we’ve got a lot of problems going on in our world today, in our country, a lot of division. But if we unleash the potential of our young people, there is nothing that we cannot achieve. And so, I urge my colleagues to support school choice. School choice is in the upcoming budget process. Give them the opportunity to compete. Give them the opportunity for a better education.
Put the pressure on our public and government schools. Make them compete to keep their students there. And the way you do that is to educate students. Get it to a point where we don’t need school choice or homeschooling. This should not be a partisan issue. This should not be about Republican or Democrat, it is about Americans. This is about Americans and giving them the opportunity to succeed and achieve. This is a huge American issue. We’d better wake up and smell the roses.
It’s about basic American values, values of education for all, opportunity for all and letting our people live out their God-given potential. Not keeping it locked up, give everybody that opportunity.
So, Mr. President, I’ll yield with that statement. Thanks.”
As a former coach, mentor, and educator for more than 40 years, Senator Tuberville is committed to promoting educational opportunities for students.
He emphasized the need for school choice in remarks on the Senate floor, and he called on the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to reconsider proposed rules to redefine the Charter School Program (CSP) that would strip parents of the ability to choose the best school for their child. Senator Tuberville introduced the Children Have Opportunities in Classrooms Everywhere (CHOICE) Act to allow low-income families with children in grades K-12 to use federal education funds for educational options that best fit their needs. Additionally, he cosponsored the bipartisan National Charter School Week Resolution, that works to promote charter schools across the country. Finally, Senator Tuberville joined legislation to designate a “Religious Education Week” to celebrate religious education in the United States.
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.