Student Success Act—Conference Report—Continuedby Senator John Cornyn
Posted on 2015-12-08
CORNYN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for
the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Senate Accomplishments Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, yesterday I spent a few minutes talking about the accomplishments of the 114th Congress, and what I have discovered is that if we don't talk about them, nobody else does. People have become so cynical about Washington and very distressed in so many ways--and I can certainly understand why--that it is important for us to point out a few of the simple facts. It is not that we have completely turned this battleship around, but we have made this incremental progress under the leadership the American people put in charge last November--the Republican leadership in the House and in the Senate, obviously, with a President of the opposite party.
Under the Constitution, the President still has a vote, he has a veto pen, and he is not irrelevant. But notwithstanding the fact that we have some well-publicized differences with the President, and even among Republicans and Democrats, I think in fairness we have to acknowledge that we have had a pretty good run in the last 11 months or so. I don't want to make this a partisan issue because frankly you can't get anything done in the U.S. Senate or in the U.S. Congress or in the U.S. Government without bipartisan cooperation.
So on the bill we are working on today, the fix for No Child Left Behind, there is the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Senator Murray, who has worked hand-in- glove with the chairman, Senator Alexander. We also had the pleasure of working with Senator Murray on trade promotion authority and on the first human trafficking reform we have seen in about a quarter of a century. Those are all important pieces of legislation.
I think about the Intelligence Committee and the work that has been done in this Congress on cyber attacks and cyber protection by Senator Feinstein from California, the ranking member, working hand-in-glove with the chairman, Senator Burr from North Carolina.
On the first multiyear highway bill we have had in 10 years, that would not have happened without the leadership of Chairman Inhofe and Chairman Hatch on the Finance Committee but also, I would say, Barbara Boxer, the Senator from California, and Ron Wyden, the ranking member on the Finance Committee.
We worked together on a number of other things that have not yet gone to the President's desk, such as criminal justice reform. I was invited to come to the White House, along with an ideological spectrum of Senators from the right to the left, to talk about criminal justice reform and how we can find consensus to deal with our criminal justice system and make our prison system no longer just a warehouse for human beings but, rather, a place where, if people want the chance, want the opportunity to turn their lives around, they can begin that by participating in programs that will help them learn a skill, perhaps deal with their drug or alcohol addiction or otherwise prepare them for reentry into civilized society.
So while leadership is important, and this agenda of trade promotion authority, anti-human trafficking, cyber security, the highway bill, criminal justice reform, and now education reform--none of this would have necessarily been on the agenda if our friends across the aisle had been in charge. The fact is, leadership is important, and thanks to the majority [[Page S8462]] leader and the leadership he has provided, he has set the agenda. But, again, nothing happens here in Washington on cyber security, on human trafficking, on trade promotion authority, on education, on highways or criminal justice reform without working together to find bipartisan consensus.
So it is important that we acknowledge--and in fairness--what has been accomplished. That is not to say we are breaking our arm by patting ourselves on the back or that we think we have solved all the problems. Certainly many of the major differences that existed last year still exist, and we, frankly, have big disagreements with some of our friends across the aisle and with this President on things such as national security, on the effectiveness--or I should say ineffectiveness of the war to destroy ISIS and to deal with the terror threat both abroad and back home. But we also ought to pause and say that where we can find common ground, we are trying to do this on behalf of the American people.
So tomorrow at about 10:45 a.m. we will be voting on an impressive piece of legislation that will bring effective education reform to help our Nation's children, their parents, and teachers. But it is not just about education; as we frequently like to say, it is about an investment in the future of our country because we are talking about equipping the next generation with what they need to succeed in an ever-changing and ever-challenging world.
Back home in Texas, I have repeatedly seen how schools have created groundbreaking, innovative programs for their students to thrive and benefit everyone involved. I know I mentioned some of these programs before, like a camp for middle school students that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math--what we frequently refer to as the STEM fields--and it included building robots. In other words, learning science can be fun too. I actually think that is what the best teachers do--they make learning fun.
I saw a cutting-edge program at the United High School in Laredo, TX, which took advantage of the proximity of Laredo to the shale gas plays in South Texas. Actually, ninth grade students who were taking science courses were learning the basics of petroleum geology so they would be equipped after they graduated from high school to get jobs in that field, jobs that pay far more than minimum wage. They do that by starting their education and by exposing them to this field in high school and through internships and other training programs.
These programs are good examples of how the local community and some of the differences in the local economy--for example, the proximity of Laredo to the Eagle Ford Shale--can shape education in a way that benefits students and the community, our States, and our country. The important thing to realize is that not all good ideas emanate from Washington, DC. In fact, the contrary is true.
Louis Brandeis, in an often-quoted statement, once called the States the ``laboratories of democracy.'' The fact is, that is true. The States are the place where innovation can occur. You can succeed or fail, as the case may be, and from that we can learn as a nation what the best practices are in education and a whole raft of subjects.
Actually, the work we are doing in criminal justice reform is based on successful reform done in places such as Texas and other States around the country. To my mind, that is the way we ought to legislate in Washington. We ought to try people's ideas out at the State and local level, and if they work, great. Then we may decide they may need to be scaled up and applied more broadly.
What we have seen and the mistake we have seen in the current administration is to make experiments nationwide with a one-size-fits- all. We have seen that in ObamaCare, for example, where all of a sudden the majority and the administration decided to transform one-sixth of the American economy, of course making extravagant promises on what would work, only to find that it couldn't work and didn't work, and thus those promises and selling points ended up not being true.
Again, on the topic of education, many of the things we realize do work have been created with the help of local teachers, leaders, and parents. These communities were able to create programs that flourished because they weren't operating under a Federal Government mandate. In fact, they were freed of Federal interference in developing that curriculum and coming up with something that works.
The bottom line is that this local ingenuity and response to educational needs can often trump ideas coming out of Washington, DC. Frankly, the ideas emanating from here prove to be impractical or ideological in nature. The bureaucracy in Washington, despite even their best intentions, cannot meet the local educational needs of millions of children across a vast and diverse country such as ours.
Our country is simply too big and too diverse to have a one-size- fits-all approach to anything, including education. That is why I am grateful to Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, and everybody who has participated in producing this conference report to a bill that passed the Senate this summer with more than 80 votes. It is called the Every Student Succeeds Act and returns control of education decisions to States and local communities and to parents and to teachers. It does a pretty good job--not a perfect job but a pretty good job--of keeping the Federal Government out of the way.
I would add parenthetically that I think it is important to make the points I am trying to make in these remarks today because I happen to have a social media habit on Twitter and elsewhere, and I see a lot of information being spread that simply is not true about this legislation and other things. That is why I think it is important to stick with the facts and explain to the American people and my constituents back home why I intend to enthusiastically support this legislation.
First of all, this bill allows States to decide the academic standards and curriculum for their own children. This bill ends Federal test-based accountability. It kills the national school board. It keeps the opinions of the bureaucrats--even the well-meaning opinions that are misguided--out of our children's classrooms. Common core has proved to be a very controversial topic. This legislation ends common core and affirms that the States have the responsibility to decide what academic standards they want to adopt and how to measure success.
By giving responsibility back to local communities and the States and parents and teachers, the Every Student Succeeds Act will allow each State and their school districts the flexibility they need to design and implement their own programs and systems according to the needs of their students and to innovate and to help us and the rest of the country learn from their experience.
States such as Texas can decide how to use federally mandated test results to understand how a student performs. This not only relieves the phenomenon known as teaching to the test, but it gives States the added freedom to provide their students with the well-rounded education they need to compete in an increasingly competitive and globalized world.
Put simply, with this legislation, States can decide for themselves what standards, what curriculum, and what accountability measures they want to adopt. I think we will see, as Justice Brandeis said, how those laboratories of democracy work. I daresay those States, school districts, and students who prosper and do well will raise the bar for everyone else because they will have demonstrated what is possible given the freedom and the flexibility to innovate.
Another important element of this bill is that it rightfully limits the power of the Secretary of Education. With this legislation, a Secretary of Education cannot mandate, cannot direct, and cannot control a State or local education agency or require them to change what they teach in the classroom. That is up to the States and up to local school districts, parents, and teachers.
This bill will replace a law in need of reform, it will stop Washington from imposing common core on our classrooms, and it will let those closest to our country's greatest asset--our children--decide how best to provide for their education.
[[Page S8463]] This bill passed the House of Representatives last week with a tremendous bipartisan vote. I hope to see a similar level of bipartisan enthusiasm here in the Senate as well when we vote to pass this conference report tomorrow morning, and I suspect we will.
As I said, this is the product of a lot of hard work by the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee--better known as the HELP Committee--here in the Senate. Senator Alexander, the senior Senator from Tennessee, has been the navigator and leader in this legislation, working closely, as I said earlier, with Senator Murray from Washington in a bipartisan way to find consensus on an often contentious subject. I know he looks forward to passage of this legislation tomorrow, as I do too, and to having the President sign it shortly thereafter.
As I said at the beginning, you can't do anything here in Congress or in Washington without bipartisan cooperation, but leadership does matter because leaders set the agenda, they set the tone, and they hold people accountable. I would say that under the leadership of Senator McConnell, the senior Senator from Kentucky, the Senate has been able to begin the process once again of solving real problems for the American people, from dealing with human trafficking, to our children's education. I look forward to continuing this progress for the rest of the week and for the rest of the year as well.
I yield the floor.
Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Lankford). The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.