Skip to content

Washington, D.C. - Quantity may be good for some states, but quality is better when it comes to teachers in Wyoming, U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi told colleagues on the Senate floor today.

"There are some who say all we really need to do to improve student achievement is to hire more teachers. But money that is earmarked for hiring new teachers will not help Wyoming keep our best teachers from leaving the state," Enzi said. "Congress must provide states and local school districts with the flexibility to pay good teachers more money, or provide them with other incentives, in order to encourage them to continue teaching."

Enzi said Wyoming has a declining student enrollment which is forcing some school districts to eliminate teaching positions. Money specifically earmarked for hiring new teachers will be of little help to schools with declining enrollment.

Instead Enzi advocated the flexibility to use federal funding for teacher training, recruiting and retention that is provided in Better Education for Students and Teachers (BEST), S.1., which the Senate is considering this week.

"This legislation provides maximum flexibility to states," Enzi said. "It will allow them to develop high quality professional development programs, provide incentives to retain quality teachers, fund innovative teacher programs such as teacher testing, merit-based teacher performance systems or alternative routes of certification, or hire additional teachers if that's what they believe is necessary."

Enzi has worked to ensure that the bill will be as helpful to Wyoming students as it is to students in New York City.

The BEST Act would also authorize a separate program to support math and science partnerships between state education agencies, higher education math and science departments, and local school districts.

The BEST Act is projected to result in federal education funding of $187 billion over the 2002-2008 reauthorization period, with adjustments for inflation. Actual spending levels for individual programs will be decided later in the year during the appropriations process.

Enzi's complete May 9 education floor statement follows.


MAY 9, 2001

Mr. ENZI. Mr. President, I am pleased today to discuss the Better Education for Students and Teachers Act, the BEST Act. We can never have too much debate on education. It is the future of our country.

This legislation achieves the simple yet powerful goal of ensuring no child is left behind. It does this by strengthening accountability for how Federal dollars are spent, by increasing students' access to technology, by improving teacher quality, and by making the schools safer for all students. It also fulfills an important commitment to States such as Wyoming that are already heavily invested in improving student achievement by allowing them the flexibility they need to continue to innovate.

I want to address a series of amendments we have and will be offering. I will be concentrating on quality of teachers, but I want to mention that yesterday we had two sense-of-the-Senate amendments. I am not going to go into what those amendments were about, but I do want to mention that I voted against both of them. It had nothing to do with the content of each of the sense-of-the-Senate amendments. It was because it was a sense-of-the-Senate amendment.

Sense-of-the-Senate amendments take a great deal of time, including if there are requested rollcall votes, which we know take 30 to 45 minutes. When we are done, they get discarded because the sense of the Senate doesn't have anything to do with the House. So they are just making a statement, and we have a lot of different ways we can make a statement. Since I have not seen any value to a sense-of-the-Senate amendment since I arrived in the Senate some 5 years ago, I will be voting against sense-of-the-Senate amendments.

Sense-of-the-Senate amendments are often agreed to. It is because of a mixture of approaches to sense-of-the-Senate amendments. A number of my colleagues say: They never go anywhere, they don't mean anything, so I'll vote for them. Then I will have a good recorded vote.

Some people turn in sense-of-the-Senate amendments so they can have a good recorded vote. I prefer to concentrate my efforts on those things that will wind up in a final bill, in final legislation that will affect the country, if we are going to have votes.

Today we had a technology amendment. It passed on a 50-49 vote. Something people might not be aware of is that technology is built into the bill, but it is built in with a great deal of flexibility. The $100 million to which we agreed pulled out money from the big technology pool and put it into a very specific area.

Let me tell you what happens when that gets down to Wyoming. We don't have enough money to do a project. But if it is left in the big pool and we can utilize the technology as the school districts see fit, with a bigger pool of money, it can make a difference to every kid in Wyoming.

We have to be very careful in this legislation that we do not put in little protections, because we were asked to, that destroy the flexibility of the bill. Flexibility is the key philosophy of this bill that allows the decisions to be made closest to the child and involve the parent, the teacher, the school board, and the community. That is where education works best.

The amendment before us now is on testing. I am not sure what all the fuss is about having some testing required. When I was in grade school, we had annual testing. I know the kinds of tests we had were called into question because they were multiple choice, which doesn't allow people their full expression. It puts some limitation on the value of the test as it comes out. But let me tell you, my parents looked at those results. They expected to see my results. They expected to see how it fit in with the rest of the class and the other students in the district who were in my grade. They used that as a comparison. I can tell you, if everybody had been off the chart, they would not have been pleased. They wanted to know how I was doing. That resulted in parent involvement, which we have said is one of the big keys to education.

When I was in the Wyoming Legislature, I headed up an education task force at one point. It was interesting to hear teacher after teacher essentially say that the biggest problem they had in the classroom was getting kids to show up, do their work, and behave. That is basic education. The way it was handled when I was growing up was it was, again, parent involvement, discipline at home. If my teacher would have told my parents I did something wrong, the discipline would have happened first and then the explanation of why I felt justified. The teacher was right. I had an opportunity to appeal after the punishment because discipline in the classroom was important.

When I was in fourth grade, I had the unique experience of being in a class that was half fourth graders and half fifth graders. We do not have a lot of class size problems in Wyoming. We definitely did not at that time. To have about 15 students in the class, they combined the 2 classes. It gave those of us in the fourth grade a little added advantage because we were always hearing the things that the fifth graders were being taught at the point that their particular lessons were being taught.

But I also had the unfortunate situation of living about a half block from the school. I had this delightful teacher who said: As soon as you finish your work, you can go out to recess. My dad happened to notice I was out at recess a lot. I was a fast worker. So he asked to see some of my work. When he checked it, he found out it was not correct. So we did a little discipline at that point, too.

He found out I was writing extremely small and that made it difficult for the teacher to check my work. I do remember him saying I would never write small again. It embarrassed him. He could afford the paper, and it looked as if he could not, and he was not going to put up with that. And we moved. We moved to another school so I would not have the same opportunity for recess.

My parents always said ``when you go to college.'' They didn't say ``if you go to college.'' Parents make a huge impact on students by their faith in their child and their encouragement for their child.

My dad was a traveling shoe salesman most of his life, and I got to travel with him in the summer. When we were making those trips, people would say: Are you going to grow up and be a salesman like your dad? Before I could answer, my dad would always jump into the conversation and say: I don't care whether he is a doctor or a lawyer or a shoe salesman or a ditch digger.

But what I always tell him is, if he is a ditch digger, I want that ditch to be so distinctive that anybody can look at it and say, ``That is a Mike Enzi ditch.''

Parental encouragement, parental faith--one of the unfortunate things for us around here is we can't legislate that. There are just some things that should not be legislated and can't be legislated. But they can be encouraged. Today we are talking about one of these things. We are talking about the subject of teachers, which we can do something about, and we are doing something about that in this bill.

Some of the most important provisions in this bill concern our Nation's teachers. As we all know, one of our Nation's greatest educational resources is our teachers. Quite often our teachers spend more time with our kids than we do. I say this not only because my daughter is a teacher but because research has found that with the exception of the involved parent, no other factor affects a child's academic achievement more than having knowledgeable, skillful teachers.

While I have been very interested in ongoing negotiations over some of the provisions in this bill, there is one area that is not negotiable, and that is ensuring that our children have high-quality teachers, especially when it comes to reading and math.

I would like everybody to think back through their past to people who influenced them the most. I suspect as you go through that little exercise--I hope you will spend some time doing that--that many of the people who will be on your list will be former teachers, ones who had some kind of an influence on your life. I hope you will not only list them, but I hope if there are any who are living, you will write them a little note and mention the effect they had on your life.

At this point I have to mention a couple that were my teachers.

When I was in eighth grade I had a home room teacher who made us concentrate on where we were going to go to college and what we would take, and even had us follow a curriculum and write to colleges, get their course book, and outline the exact courses we would take through a 4-year college education in the field of our choice. I learned a great deal about how to plan for college.

She also involved us in a lot of interesting discussions and later served in the State legislature with me. I have to mention that she quit teaching and became an administrator. After she retired, she ran for the State legislature. It was a great deal of fun to be in the State legislature with a former teacher, particularly one with a voice that attracts people's attention, gets their attention, and drives home a point. I always did like the way she started a speech just after I had spoken where she said: MIKE ENZI was a student of mine, and he knows what he is talking about. Do what he says.

You just can't have that kind of backing in legislation you are doing and with quite as much effect as she had.

I had a math teacher in eighth grade, Mr. Shovelin. He introduced us to slide rules. Kids today don't know what slide rules are. He helped us form a future engineers club so we would be able to compete in math. He did anything he could do to get us excited about math. Teachers do that.

Later I had Mr. Popovich in high school, another math teacher, who was probably the most enthusiastic teacher I ever had. He made sure that everybody in our math class understood each principle we covered, and he did that by asking questions. If you got it right, he was enthusiastic and jumped in the air. If we got it wrong, he was enthusiastic, and he would literally climb onto the chalk tray saying, No, that is not it, and giving another version of how it could be.

I also liked his explanation of geometry. He said that is really the only course that you get in high school that is logic. Today, I think there are some courses that are actually logic courses. But he pointed out how geometry is logic, and approached it as the old Greeks did, trying to prove verbally and through pictures very basic concepts by starting out with the most basic and building on it.

Mrs. Embry is a lady who is about 4-foot-nothing with bright red hair. She taught international affairs. I needed an elective, and I didn't think I would have any interest in it. Before I left high school, I applied for college at George Washington University and was planning to go into international affairs. She had a tremendous effect on my life. She also happened to be the lady who was part of the team that decoded the messages when Pearl Harbor was being bombed.

Mrs. Sprague, an English teacher, had an impact on me. She said, ``Why don't you use more humor in what you write? You do very well with humor.''

One little sentence such as that changes a student's perspective on themselves and their future.

There are thousands and thousands of teachers out there who are doing that every day.

I am pleased that title II of S. 1 addresses the issue of teacher quality. Unlike more restrictive proposals that require States and local school districts to use Federal funds exclusively for the purpose of hiring new teachers, this legislation provides maximum flexibility to States. It will allow them to develop high-quality, professional development programs, provide incentives to retain quality teachers, fund innovative teacher programs such as teacher testing, merit-based teacher performance systems, or alternative routes of certification, or hire additional teachers if that is what they believe is necessary.

It would authorize a separate program to support math and science partnerships between State education agencies, higher education math and science departments and local school districts, and activities for these partnerships through the development of rigorous math and science curriculum; professional development activities specifically geared toward math and science teachers; recruitment efforts to encourage more college students majoring in math and science to enter the teaching profession and summer workshops; and follow-up training in the fields of math and science.

When I was in junior high, Russia set off Sputnik. It launched a whole new interest in science in the United States. A group of boys, who were my friends, and I formed a rocket explorer post. It was the flexibility in the Boy Scout Program that allowed us to do career investigation.

The reason I mention this is because I personally had a teacher named Tom Allen who was the biology teacher at the high school who worked with me on my special project. Many of us have seen the October Skies movie of young men who were encouraged by this great Russian event, and then the American challenge that was issued at that point. That is the group of people with whom I worked.

This biology teacher worked with me to design a nose cone for our rocket that would take a mouse up and safely return it. We never put a mouse in the nose cone, but I designed space capsules for them, put mice in the capsule, spun them on a centrifuge, and then had to evaluate the way they came out of it.

I learned a lot of math. I learned a lot of science. I learned a lot of biology. He was a special teacher.

There are two teachers in Gillette, who are retiring now--Nello and Rollo Williams. They are brothers. One runs the planetarium. One of them runs the adventurium. The adventurium is a science lab that invites kids from all over northern Wyoming to do actual experiments and special projects. They can see a series of events that give them a better understanding of science. Each of them taught during the summers for science camps, kids doing extra school work, learning through extra special teachers.

It isn't just limited to the generation that is retiring. My daughter is a teacher. She is part of the new generation. While she has been teaching, she has been working on two master's degrees so that she can be a better teacher, although one of those gets her a certificate in administration.

I mentioned Mrs. Wright, who went to administration, Mr. Shovelin, who went to administration, and Mr. Popovich, who went to administration. My daughter is looking to go to administration. Part of the reason is that that is where the money is. All of those people liked their classroom work better and believed they made more of an impact on the kids as a teacher.

My daughter emphasizes school-to-career. She does some of that summer teaching. When she finishes a major assignment, she calls the parents of the kids who did not turn in the assignment. That sounds fairly simple. Check and see how many teachers do that. If they don't, let me suggest to you the reason they don't. Her biggest discouragement was the first time she did it, and then she called us in tears. She called the parents, told them the assignment had not been turned in, and the parents said: So, what are you going to do about it?

Not a very good parental involvement activity. But she persists in it. She also catches them doing things right, writes a note to their parents, and slips it in their book or their backpack, where sooner or later the child discovers it, and rather than delivering this missive to their parents, they open it first to see what it is, and find out that it is something good, and it does get delivered to the parents. But whatever she notes that they are doing well--better than anyone--they do the rest of the year, perhaps the rest of their life.

Teachers do have an impact. This bill will affect teachers. This bill does allow States to pursue alternative routes of certification, to encourage talented individuals from other fields to enter the teaching profession. There are many qualified individuals who might be willing to teach if it were easier to become certified.

Although the Federal Government should never dictate certification standards to individual States, we should make it as easy as possible for interested States to recruit midcareer professionals, and perhaps retired members of the military, into the teaching profession. Title II of S. 1 goes a long way toward achieving that goal.

Of course, it has some very good rural possibilities, too. I know of one very small community in Wyoming where there was a lady who grew up in France who had a good command of the French language. She wanted to teach French to the very few students--fewer than 15--who were in the school district. Sometimes certification can get in the way of that.

I think we also need to bring professionals from all careers into the schools to help the kids understand that what they are learning will be valuable later in their life. I do not think I have ever learned anything that did not turn out to be valuable sometime later. Good teachers encourage that kind of participation.

Despite all these efforts to improve teacher quality, there are some who say: All we really need to do to improve student achievement is to hire more teachers. I have to tell you, for small rural States such as Wyoming, that is not the answer. While I certainly recognize that our Nation is facing a teacher shortage in the coming years, Wyoming currently has a declining student enrollment which is forcing some districts to eliminate teaching positions. More money specifically earmarked for hiring new teachers will be of little help to the schools in those areas with declining enrollment.

In addition, rural States such as Wyoming often have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, especially highly qualified teachers. Money that is earmarked for hiring new teachers will not help Wyoming keep our best teachers from leaving the State.

Congress must provide States and local school districts the flexibility to pay good teachers more money or to provide them with other incentives in order to get them to continue teaching. This bill provides flexibility.

I think it may be helpful to provide my colleagues with some hard data on Wyoming to illustrate that this is not simply lip service to a particular philosophy on education. The variations in education staffing needs across the country are real, and they are very dramatic.

For example, Wyoming has 48 school districts, with a total of 378 elementary and secondary schools. Here is the important part: Of those schools, 79 have an enrollment of fewer than 50 students. I am not talking of a classroom size of 50 students, I am talking of a total enrollment in the school of 50 students. I am not kidding when I say, in Wyoming 79 schools are defined as ``rural.''

Then we have what we call the ``small schools.'' Those are the schools with an enrollment of 50 to 199 kids. There are 122 such schools in Wyoming. There are 143 ``medium-sized'' schools, with an enrollment ranging from 200 to 599 students. And we have a whopping 34 schools with an enrollment exceeding 500 kids for grade school and 600 kids for high school.

Districts often have to incorporate several grade schools to form a big high school. Let me tell you, nothing gets the good people of Wyoming more agitated than suggestions that they ought to consolidate those small or rural schools into a medium-sized or big school. It takes away the community. It takes away the emphasis. It takes away the way we have done things in Wyoming.

Now let me put this in context. The total enrollment in Wyoming's 378 public schools was 91,883. That is 1999 data. In New York State, 2.8 million children were enrolled in public school. That is 1997 data. So both of those would have changed a little.

As for teachers in Wyoming, they are our heroes. There are 6,887 of them. Based on aggregate teacher salary expenditures reported for the State last year, the average salary of a teacher in Wyoming is just under $29,000. Those teachers are underpaid.

This bill can do something about that. If we adopt the flexibility in title II of this bill, the teacher quality provision, then schools in Wyoming can use funds to give teachers a raise or reward outstanding teachers or provide incentives to recruit highly qualified teachers to our great State.

When educators from Wyoming visit me, the resounding message is usually not: Make our schools and class sizes even smaller; it is: Help us recruit good teachers and keep good teachers--with a lot of emphasis on the ``keep good teachers,'' and the need for higher pay and flexibility.

If you can believe it, there have been teachers hired in Wyoming under the Class Size Reduction Initiative that was appropriated but never authorized for the past 2 years. If they so choose, the schools that hired those teachers can retain them under this bill. However, the question I ask, on behalf of all the schools that were not eligible for that money because they already had small school size, is: Are the struggles they face in recruiting and retaining quality teachers any less important in ensuring that every child receives a quality education?

Do not forget the variations in this country, the fact that we cannot have one-size-fits-all Government. When it comes from Washington, it is too little, with too many regulations. We are not suggesting it ought to be more, with more regulations.

The research shows that while a small class size may have an effect on student performance and achievement, having a highly qualified teacher has an even greater impact. That was shown in a study by Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain in 1998. And, according to the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, we still need to invest in figuring out how to best help current and new teachers to be highly qualified. Massachusetts provided the perfect example of that, that assisting schools in having great teachers is as important, if not more so, than meeting federally targeted class size goals.

I hope this background about Wyoming's uniquely rural public education system, juxtaposed on that of ``big'' States, can help my colleagues to appreciate why the flexibility in this bill is so important to meeting the needs of all our children.

I will not see a bill enacted that doesn't provide as much support for Wyoming students' success as it does for the students in big cities. Our children are our most valuable resource, and we must prepare them to face the challenges of the 21st century. We cannot do this by allowing Washington politicians to implement a one-size-fits-all approach to education.

The Better Education for Students and Teachers Act allows States to decide how to best serve their students and teachers. I strongly support this legislation and encourage my colleagues to do the same, and to maintain the flexibility that it has.

I yield the floor.