Every Student Succeeds Actby Senator Cory A. Booker
Posted on 2015-12-10
BOOKER. Mr. President, I wish to speak about the Every Student
Succeeds Act that the President signed into law today.
I want to first congratulate my colleagues Senator Patty Murray and Senator Lamar Alexander, who have effectively been able to guide this bill through the Senate. It has been an honor to watch and participate in this process--a process that has served as a great example of the way the Senate is supposed to work.
When the original Senate version of the Every Child Achieves Act came to the floor for a vote on July 22, 2015, I could not support it because, while it made necessary changes to the No Child Left Behind law, I could not in good conscience support a bill that fell short of investing in the potential and promise of all of our children, especially New Jersey's most vulnerable students. I stood resolute in the belief that if Congress was truly going to invest in our children and grandchildren's future, it was vital that any legislation passed provide support, access, and opportunity to equip the next generation to succeed, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
These needs were particularly poignant given the historic context of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act as a civil rights bill. Created the same year as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and just 11 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, President Lyndon B. Johnson's original piece of legislation intended to address the gaping gulf in the quality of education received by low- income students in an intensely segregated country. Indeed, this piece of legislation was a vital tool in President Johnson's arsenal on the War on Poverty. It is undeniable that education is a cornerstone of the American Dream to achieve success and financial security. We do our Nation and our children a disservice if we do not do everything in our power to ensure that President Johnson's arsenal is not only maintained, but honed and replenished with robust provisions to fight an evolving battle for educational equity in our schools.
Although I did not vote for the original Senate version of ESEA that passed the Senate in July, I am glad to see a conference report, the Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA, that takes elements from both the House and Senate bill and ultimately is a better bill for all children, teachers, and parents in our country.
Chief among provisions that I believed were problematic was the lack of accountability measures to ensure America's most vulnerable students have access to a quality education. With regards to accountability, it was critical not to be overly prescriptive while still acknowledging an intense need to identify and ask schools and districts to figure out specific plans to turn things around in the lowest performing schools and high schools who fail to graduate one-third of their students. It is also critical to identify where there are groups of students who are consistently performing worse than their peers. I do not believe these changes should come from Washington. Local teachers, principals, and parents are best equipped to know how best to [[Page S8597]] turn around a failing school, and this bill gives them the arsenal to do so. I believe the new accountability provisions empower local leaders, with State and Federal guidance, to pursue the improvement strategies best suited to their local needs.
These accountability measures are vital if we are to guarantee that the ideals our students pledge allegiance to every day, justice and liberty for all, are manifest in the education we provide for our youngest Americans.
With this goal in mind, I am also pleased that ESSA includes my amendment to support homeless and foster youth, by ensuring educators and the public are aware of how foster and homeless children and youth are performing on critical elements compared to their peers by adding reporting for these groups on graduation rates to the State and school district report cards.
The role of teachers is also prioritized in ESSA, and I was especially proud to see the amendment I authored that helps support teachers by asking school districts to identify opportunities to make working conditions better and more sustainable.
With these improvements made and the spirit of the bill as an important piece of civil rights legislation maintained, I wholeheartedly support the reconciled version that has passed the House and Senate and that was signed by the President today.