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Benjamin C.
Democrat MD

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  • Student Success Act—Conference Report

    by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    CARDIN. Mr. President, today I wish to celebrate a truly bipartisan, bicameral accomplishment. For the first time in 14 years, Congress is on the precipice of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA. First enacted 50 years ago as a part of the civil rights era, this legislation sought to ensure all children, regardless of ZIP code, were able to obtain a high-quality education. The latest reauthorization of ESEA was signed [[Page S8511]] into law in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind, NCLB, Act. Due for reauthorization since 2007, an entire generation of students have matriculated through our Nation's public school system under this Federal education policy while reforms have been desperately needed. I am proud of the compromises that Senate HELP Committee Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray were able to craft together starting back in January and for the tireless work of their staffs to get us to this point we are at today.

    Ensuring access to a high-quality education is one of the most important duties of Federal, State, and local governments. While Congress enacted the NCLB Act with the best of intentions and a comforting name, in reality the red tape and overreliance on the Federal assessments it codified have left far too many children behind since its passage. In the years leading up to today, I have heard from parents concerned about the pressure their children feel when taking certain assessments, I have been disheartened to hear educators in my State say that they are falling out of love with teaching with consistently changing mandates and the unpredictability of high stakes testing, and I have met with education leaders who are trying to make the best of an untenable situation. All of those involved in education--from students, parents, educators, school support personnel, education leaders, volunteers, and organizations which hold our schools accountable to ensure every child obtains a high-quality education-- deserve to move on from the failed NCLB Act.

    I have often heard from educators in my State who stress that a child is more than a single or collective set of test scores. I am pleased the Every Child Achieves Act, ECAA, will replace the Federal, one-size- fits-all ``adequate yearly progress'' accountability system and allow States to design their own accountability systems to identify, monitor, and assist schools. Rather than relying on a collective set of test scores to determine student performance, accountability systems will be able to take into consideration student growth over the course of a school year. States will be able to consider multiple measures of student learning, including access to academic resources, school climate and safety, access to support personnel, and other measures which can allow for differentiation in student performance. All of this will be done while ensuring that students are held to the high yet achievable standard of being college- and career-ready upon completion of high school.

    I am proud that the ECAA recognizes that, to support a successful student, schools should support the whole child, both physically and mentally. The approved bill includes a provision I coauthored with Senator Roy Blunt that will allow schools in low-income areas to use Federal resources under title I to provide school-based mental health programs. School-based mental health programs have been proven to increase educational outcomes, decrease absences, and improve student assessments. The ECAA also makes an effort to ensure students in our Nation have a deeper understanding of how our government functions, and I would like to thank Senators Chuck Grassley and Sheldon Whitehouse for working with me to modify the american history and civics title of ECAA to accomplish this goal. Our provision allows evidence-based civic and government education programs that emphasize the history and principles of the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, to receive Federal funding for expansion and dissemination for voluntary use. For too long, a singular focus on assessments pushed out other important subjects like these which ensure a student receives a well- rounded education.

    My home State of Maryland has made a commitment to funding education adequately over the past decade that has allowed Maryland to be a consistent national leader in student performance and student outcomes. Each day, our State's nearly 875,000 students make their way to the classrooms of more than 60,000 educators and thousands more support personnel and education leaders in nearly 1,446 Maryland schools. I appreciate the service of educators not only from the perspective of a lawmaker, father, and grandfather, but also as a husband of a teacher. I appreciate my colleague Senator Barbara Mikulski, for standing with me to prevent a proposal from Senator Richard Burr from being included in the final conference report which would have harmed Maryland's hardest to serve low-income students. Senator Burr's proposal would have reduced Maryland's share of title I-A funding for educating low- income children by $40 million per year, punishing States like Maryland that have made the decision to make proper investments in funding education for our children. Thanks to the work of Senator Mikulski and a strong coalition of members from similar States, the final conference report does not include this provision.

    The legislative process is about comprise. In many respects, this bill is a vast improvement over the No Child Left Behind Act, and the hard work of HELP Committee Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, and Ranking Member Bobby Scott have led us to this point. However, work remains to address a current lack of protections to make our schools safer places for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, LGBT, students. In addition, Congress must not repeat the same mistakes we learned from under the NCLB Act by underfunding our Nation's public schools. I stand ready to work with Members from both parties to ensure that all Americans can obtain a high-quality education.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Washington.

    Mrs. MURRAY. Mr. President, Duncan Taylor is the parent of a second grader in Highline public schools in my home State of Washington. Like so many parents in my State, he got a letter in the mail saying his son's school was failing.

    Last year, Washington State lost its waiver from No Child Left Behind's requirements. Not only did that mean most of the schools in the State are now labeled as failing, it meant Washington State lost flexibility over how to spend some of its Federal funding.

    As an active member of the PTA, Duncan volunteers in the classroom. So he knew that the label of ``failing'' did not reflect the kind of education his son was getting, but as an education advocate, he also knew that losing out on that funding--in effect punishing schools that serve students from all kinds of backgrounds--was not going to help. Like so many parents and teachers across the Nation, Duncan has been following our work to reauthorize the Nation's elementary and secondary education bill. We cannot let them down.

    I thank Chairman Alexander for working with me since February on a bipartisan path to get us to this point today. This process started when Chairman Alexander and I agreed that No Child Left Behind is badly broken and needed to be fixed. He has been a great partner, and I am thrilled we have reached this point together.

    I also thank all of our colleagues on the HELP Committee for their work and dedication in moving this bill forward. In particular, I thank my committee Democrats for their tireless work on behalf of families, schools, and communities in their States. This is a stronger bill thanks to their commitment and effort.

    I thank the two leaders, Senator McConnell and Senator Reid. In particular, I thank Senator Reid for his guidance and support.

    We would not be where we are without Chairman Kline and Ranking Member Scott in the House. While Chairman Kline and I do not see eye to eye on everything, he has been a great partner on this bill, and I look forward to getting more done with him before he retires next year. Ranking Member Bobby Scott has been a partner in getting this deal done. Without him and the passion he brings around dropout factories and creating a real accountability system for our schools so all children can succeed, we would not have been able to get this bill to a place where Democrats and the President could support it.

    There have been many late nights and weekends for our staff this year. I want to take a moment now to recognize their extraordinary efforts and service. On Senator Alexander's staff, I want to particularly acknowledge and thank his staff director, David Cleary, [[Page S8512]] as well as Peter Oppenheim and Lindsay Fryer, his education and K-12 policy leads, who worked closely with our staff over many months. I also want to acknowledge and thank Jordan Hynes, Bill Knudson, Lindsey Seidman, Hillary Knudsen, Bobby McMillin, and Jim Jeffries, who all did great work on this important bill.

    In the House, I was proud to work with Chairman John Kline, and I recognize and thank his staff director, Juliane Sullivan, as well as Amy Jones, Brad Thomas, Mandy Schaumburg, Leslie Tatum, Kathlyn Ehl, Matthew Frame, Sheariah Yousefi, Krisann Pearce, and Brian Newell.

    I was glad to work with my friend, Ranking Member Bobby Scott, and I truly appreciate all of his hard work and dedication to this bill. I want to recognize and thank his staff director, Denise Forte, along with Jacque Chevalier, Helen Pajcic, Alex Payne, Christian Haines, Kiara Pesante, Brian Kennedy, and Rayna Reid.

    In addition, I thank our committed floor staff, who provide outstanding guidance to us every day. In particular, I thank Gary Myrick, Tim Mitchell, Tricia Engle, and Daniel Tinsley.

    Finally, I cannot say enough about my own incredible staff, who have put their time and talents into this bill from the word ``go.'' In particular, I want to thank my staff director, Evan Schatz, and my public education policy director, Sarah Bolton, for their extraordinary efforts on this legislation.

    I want to acknowledge the long and hard work of Amanda Beaumont, Allie Kimmel, Leanne Hotek, Jake Cornett, Aissa Canchola, Sarah Rosenberg, Aurora Steinle, Leslie Clithero, Eli Zupnick, Helen Hare, Mary Robbins, Jeff Crooks, John Righter, Beth Stein, Beth Burke, Sarah Cupp, Melanie Rainer, Stacy Rich, Emma Rodriguez, and my chief of staff, Mike Spahn. I noticed all of your long, hard work on the unwavering commitment.

    As a former teacher, I want to thank you for standing up for the best interests of our students, our educators, and our communities in Washington State and across the country. We would not be where we are today without all of your efforts. Thank you.

    Every Senator here has heard from teachers, parents, and students in their home State about how No Child Left Behind is badly broken. For one thing, the law overemphasized testing, and oftentimes those tests are redundant or unnecessary. It issued one-size-fits-all mandates but then failed to give States the resources to meet those standards. I have seen firsthand how this law is not working in my home State of Washington.

    Thankfully, we were able to work in a bipartisan way on a solution. Together, we passed our bill through the HELP Committee with strong bipartisan support. We passed our bill here on the Senate floor with strong bipartisan support. We got approval from our bicameral conference committee with strong bipartisan support. Last week the House passed this final legislation with strong bipartisan support. Today I hope our colleagues here will approve this final bill with the same bipartisan spirit that has guided our progress so far.

    The Every Student Succeeds Act will reduce reliance on high-stakes testing. It will invest in improving and expanding access to early learning programs so more kids start kindergarten ready to learn. It will help ensure that all students have access to a quality education regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.

    With today's vote, I am looking forward to going back home and telling teachers and principals that we are on their side. I am looking forward to showing the American people that Congress can actually work when both sides work together.

    I am looking forward to making sure this bill is implemented in a way that works for Washington State students, parents, teachers, and communities, but first we have to clear this last legislative hurdle before we can send it to the President's desk. I urge my colleagues to vote yes to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act. Vote yes to fix No Child Left Behind. Vote yes to prove Congress can break through gridlock, work together, and get results. Vote yes to pass this bill for students, parents, teachers, and communities across the country.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Tennessee.

    Order of Procedure

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