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Barbara M.
Democrat MD

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  • Student Success Act—Conference Report

    by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    MIKULSKI. Mr. President, I rise in support of the Every Child Succeeds Act. Today will be a great day for the Senate because we will actually pass a bill that is a result of a bipartisan effort led by two very able and dedicated leaders, Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray. They have done an outstanding job in guiding the committee and encouraging open debate with extensive hearings, consultation with Members, and committee markups that were long, hard, and sometimes quite feisty to say the least. That is the way the Congress ought to be, and I thank them.

    I think their dedication showed that in the Senate--we acknowledge the work of Chairman Kline and Ranking Member Scott in the House, but here, we were led by two educators: Senator Alexander, the former president of a university and former Secretary of Education and Senator Murray, a teacher herself, who has taught us many lessons in our caucus on how to do the right job in the right way.

    Today we come with the rewrite of a bill that started 50 years ago, when Lyndon Johnson wanted to have a war on poverty and passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It was the first time the Federal Government was going to be involved in education and wanted to be sure there were Federal resources to help lift children out of poverty.

    Many us agree with what the great former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, that education is the civil rights issue of this generation because education is what opens doors today and opens doors tomorrow. The legislation we pass today will make sure that we correct the problems of the past and do the right thing in the future.

    When I knew that the committee was going to be serious about the doing the bill, I crisscrossed Maryland consulting with parents, teachers, and administrators of our school system to get the best ideas. The first thing I asked was, what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong, what do you want us to do more of, and when do you want us to get the heck out of the way? They said to me: Senator Barb, the problem in Washington is that you have a one-size-fits-all mentality. Washington wants to take the same rules that apply in New York City and apply them to Ocean City, MD. You cannot have a one-size-fits-all for every school district in the United States of America.

    The second thing they said is, yes, you need accountability; yes, you do need metrics. But what we have come up with is overtesting that still does not result in high performance.

    I worked on a bipartisan basis with the leadership to do what we could to get rid of the excesses of one-size-fits-all, all decisions that are made in Washington, and the fact that we shouldn't be racing to the test, we should be racing to the top.

    My first rule in working on this legislation was to do no harm. I was deeply disturbed that there was an effort to change the formula--the formula that meant what Federal funds do come in the area of title I. We worked very hard to make sure the formula was fair and equitable, along with the rules of the game now and the groundwork for the rules of the game for the future.

    What that meant was that initially Maryland would have lost $40 million and Baltimore City and Baltimore County would have each lost $6 million. In Prince George's County, which is experiencing a new wave of immigrant children, we would have lost $7 million. We were able to make sure the formula works the way it should.

    We also made sure our teachers have the support they need. Our teachers have been overregulated. They have had demands placed on them to solve problems that are not theirs when a child comes to the classroom. Their job is to teach the child, but they can't solve every problem the child has. Many of our children come to school with significant and severe health problems. Some have peanut allergies. Some have asthma. Some are challenged by autism. The school system needs help with supportive services.

    I am so proud of the effort I led to make sure we have opportunities for school nurses to be in those schools; to make sure Federal funds can be used for the coordination of the services that will be needed to provide and oversee the health needs of our children, such as vision screening, hearing screening, and important mental health services-- this is what we need to be able to do; also, to make sure that while we maintain testing in reading and math, we make sure we get rid of the overtesting and the race to the test.

    The Every Student Succeeds Act is good for all of Maryland's students. There are 874,000 boys and girls in school today. Some are from at-risk populations. What we do here is get them ready for school. We make investments in preschool education, which is so important. We have afterschool programming because children don't learn only during the school day but through structured afterschool programming. Children continue to learn all day while they are in a safe and secure environment. We empower families, we empower teachers, and we empower the local level.

    I think this is a very good job in what has been done here. What we hope to be able to do is to make sure our children are ready for the 21st century. I believe this bill is a downpayment on our children's future and therefore on our Nation's future. When we spend money on education, the benefit not only accrues to the child, it accrues to our society. Every time a child can read, every time a child can participate in the demands and the knowledge of what the 21st century requires, we are going to be in a better place.

    I congratulate Senator Alexander and Senator Murray on a great job.

    I urge adoption of the conference report.

    I yield the floor.

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