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May 4, 2011

The National Constitution Competition

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The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Blumenauer) for 5 minutes.

Mr. BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, it was my great privilege to spend a major portion of the weekend watching young constitutional scholars from Portland's Grant High School compete in the national Constitution competition here in our Nation's Capital.

It was an amazing experience watching these young men and women debating the fine points of our Constitution. While I had a personal interest with one of the students there, it became clear, watching the competition, that everybody was a winner.

As I was watching the finals, where they were one of the top 10 teams in the Nation, it was fascinating to contemplate what was going on in the much broader context in terms of what this represented. Everybody was a winner--the student constitutional scholars, their dedicated coaches and teachers. Most important, America was winning.

They were part of tens of thousands of students across the country who dove into the intricacies of the Constitution over the past year. They

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delved into its antecedents like the Magna Carta and the Articles of Confederation. They deal with the Civil War and the challenges to our constitutional ideals and the practicality of governance in a time of war. They pondered the struggle to give all Americans the promises embedded in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They explored the conflict between the rule of law and its too often flawed implementation.

It was really heartwarming to be able to witness the discussion between the judges, who were all skilled professionals--professors, lawyers, judges volunteering their time--and these terrific young citizens. Indeed, some of the exchanges were riveting. I found myself reflecting on how much easier would be our job in Congress if there were more Americans who were part of this extraordinary experience.

These young people have been part of a program making a difference for a quarter century now. We've got data that show its effectiveness. These young people score a third higher than adult citizens on their knowledge of the Constitution and civic affairs. And good news for America: looking at this experience over a quarter century, they are five times more likely to run for public office.

The bad news is that thousands of young people in every State, the District of Columbia, and some of the territories will lose as a result of the inability of Congress to figure out how to finance a small portion of the participation that comes from Federal money. They are a casualty this year of the inability of Congress to figure out how to provide that support. I find that ironic because these young people could give Congress lessons about the congressional power of the purse, the separations of power, to give us a roadmap to make sure that these programs are not sacrificed.

It's particularly important because the flawed ``No Child Left Behind'' bill that's up for reauthorization doesn't place a premium on civic education. I see my good friend, Congresswoman Woolsey, a senior member of that committee, who has fought for years to redirect it.

Well, the least we can do is to restore the money lost this year as we deal with the budget for the next year. Any Member of Congress who takes the time to meet with the outstanding young men and women from their State who are in our Nation's Capital today in the aftermath of that contest would be hard-pressed to explain to them why they wouldn't and, indeed, should be inspired to do all they could to make sure this outstanding program continues.

(House of Representatives - May 3, 2011)

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