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Lamar A.
Republican TN

About Sen. Lamar
  • Student Success Act—Conference Report

    by Senator Lamar Alexander

    Posted on 2015-12-08

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    ALEXANDER. Madam President, this is a day for opportunity in the Senate. We have an opportunity today to reverse the trend of the last several years toward a national school board. We have an opportunity to make clear that in the future, the path to higher standards, better teaching, and real accountability will be through States, communities, and classrooms and not through Washington, DC.

    We have an opportunity to vote in favor of what the Wall Street Journal has called ``the largest devolution of Federal control to States in a quarter century.'' We have an opportunity to inaugurate a new era of innovation and excellence in student achievement by restoring responsibility to States and classroom teachers. Tennessee, after all, was the first State that paid teachers more for teaching well. Minnesota educators created the first charter schools. The real advances in higher standards and accountability and appropriate testing have come from classroom teachers and from Governors, not from Washington, DC, and I believe that is where those advances will come from in the future.

    We have an opportunity today to provide much needed stability and certainty to Federal education policy from some very important people who are counting on us: 50 million children, 3.4 million teachers, and 100,000 public schools.

    Newsweek magazine recently reminded us what we already know very well: No Child Left Behind is a law everybody wants fixed. Governors, teachers, superintendents, parents, Republicans, Democrats, and students all want the law fixed. There is a consensus about that and fortunately there is a consensus about how to fix it. That consensus is this: continue the law's important measurements of academic progress of students--disaggregate and report the results of those measurements--so teachers, parents, and the community can know what is going on in the schools but restore to States, school districts, classroom teachers, and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about those tests and about what to do about improving student achievement.

    In our Senate hearings, I suppose we heard more about over-testing than any other subject. I believe this new law will result in fewer and better tests because States and classroom teachers will be deciding what to do about the results of the tests.

    Building on the consensus I have just described is why the Senate-- our Senate education committee--passed our bill 22 to 0 and why it passed on the floor 81 to 17. That is why conferees from the Senate and the House were able to agree 38 to 1, and that is why last Thursday the House of Representatives approved the conference report 359 to 64. That is why the National Governors Association gave our conference report its first full endorsement that the NGA has given to any legislation in nearly 20 years. That is why the Chief State School Officers, the school superintendents, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers all have supported our result.

    This consensus will end the waivers through which the U.S. Department of Education has become in effect a national school board for more than 80,000 schools in 42 States. Governors have been forced to come to Washington, DC, and play ``Mother, May I'' in order for a State to put in a plan to evaluate teachers, for example, or to help a low- performing school.

    Our consensus will end the Federal common core mandate. It explicitly prohibits Washington from mandating or even incentivizing common core or any other specific academic standards. That is exclusively the responsibility of the State. It moves decisions about whether schools, teachers, and students are succeeding or failing out of Washington, DC, and back to States and communities and classroom teachers where those decisions belong.

    I am grateful to Senator Murray, who is here today, and Representatives Kline and Scott, and to all of the members of our Senate education committee, for the leadership they have shown and the bipartisan way in which they have worked on this legislation. I am grateful to both the Democratic and Republican staffs in the Senate and in the House for their ingenuity and hard work. Fixing No Child Left Behind has not been easy. Everyone is an expert on education. This has been a lot like being in a football stadium with 100,000 fans, all of whom know exactly which play to call and usually each one of them says so.

    Some Republicans would like even more local control of schools than our consensus provides, and I am one of them, but my Scholarship for Kids proposal, which would have given States the option to allow Federal dollars to follow children to the school their parents choose, only received 45 votes in the Senate. It needed 60.

    So I have decided, as a President named Reagan once advised, that I will take 80 percent of what I want and fight for the other 20 percent on another day. Besides, if I were to vote no, I would be voting to leave in place the common core mandate--and I would be voting to leave in place the waivers that permit the U.S. Department of Education to act as a national school board for 80,000 students and 42 states--and I would be voting against the largest step toward locally-controlled schools in 25 years. Let me repeat that. Voting no today is voting to leave in place the common core mandate and the national school board and voting against the largest step toward local control of schools in 25 years.

    I say to my friends, especially on the Republican side, many of whom, as I do, would like more local control: That is not the choice. The choice is whether [[Page S8451]] we want to leave in place common core, the national school board, and the largest step toward local control in 25 years. I don't want to do that.

    This law expired 8 years ago. It has become unworkable. If it were strictly applied, it would label nearly every school in America a failing school. So States, teachers, and parents have been waiting 8 years for us to reauthorize this law. If this were homework, they would give Congress an F for being tardy, but I hope they will give us a good grade for the result we have today.

    It is a great privilege to serve in the U.S. Senate, but there is no need for us to have that privilege if all we do is announce our different opinions or vote no if we don't get 100 percent of our way. We can do that at home or on the radio or in the newspaper or on a street corner. As U.S. Senators, after we have had our say, our job is to get a principled result. Today we have that opportunity.

    I hope today will demonstrate that we understand the privilege we have as Senators and show that we cherish our children by building upon this consensus and vote yes to fix the law that everybody wants fixed and yes for the consensus that restores responsibility for our schools to States, communities, and classroom teachers.

    Before Senator Murray speaks, I would like to do two things, briefly. The first vote--the vote we are having today at 11:30--is a vote about whether to cut off debate on fixing No Child Left Behind. I hope no Senator thinks we have not had enough debate. We have been at this for 7 years. We failed in the last two Congresses. We have been working in our committee since January. We have had innumerable hearings, more than 50 amendments in committee, more than 70 amendments were dealt with on the floor, a dozen or so amendments in the conference report. Every Senator has had this in his or her office since last Monday--at least for a week. So the question today at 11:30 is, Is it time to cut off debate and move to a final vote? I hope every Senator will vote yes.

    Finally, I mentioned Senator Murray and her role in this, which has been indispensable in terms of our ability to come to a result. I would like to extend my deep thanks and appreciation to her staff and our staff, the committee staff, that worked on fixing No Child Left Behind. Many of them have been working on this effort for nearly 5 years. They have been ingenious. They have worked hard. They have been understanding, they have been tireless, and they have been indispensable in creating this important bipartisan, bicameral bill. That includes the staffs of Representative Kline and Representative Scott in the House On Senator Murray's exceptional staff I would like to thank especially Evan Schatz, Sarah Bolton, Amanda Beaumont, John Righter, Jake Cornett, Leanne Hotek, Allie Kimmel, and Aissa Canchola. All of those people were very important. For my hard-working and dedicated staff, I would especially like to thank our staff director, David Cleary, Peter Oppenheim, Lindsay Fryer, Bill Knudsen, Jordan Hynes, Hillary Knudson, Jake Baker, Lindsey Seidman, Allison Martin, Bobby McMillan, Jim Jeffries, Liz Wolgemuth, Margaret Atkinson, and Taylor Haulsee.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Washington.

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