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Lamar A.
Republican TN

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  • Student Success Act—Conference Report—Continued

    by Senator Lamar Alexander

    Posted on 2015-12-08

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    ALEXANDER. Mr. President, the conference agreement to replace No Child Left Behind, the Every Student Succeeds Act, takes unprecedented steps to rein in the Secretary of Education and put the power for education decisions back in the hands of parents and State and local officials. By passing this legislation, it clearly becomes Congress' intent that States be solely responsible for the development and implementation of, and decisions regarding, all aspects of their State accountability systems. This is an intentional and deliberate act to eliminate the ability of the Secretary of Education to use regulatory power or guidance to add new requirements or conditions to State systems that are outside of the specific language in statute.

    [[Page S8467]] The legislation prevents the Secretary from influencing, forcing, or coercing a State to adopt specific standards in many ways, including the following: First, officers and employees of the Federal Government--including the Secretary of Education--are prohibited from conditioning the receipt of any funds, through grants, contracts, or agreements on the adoption of any academic standards, including Common Core.

    Second, States do not have to submit their standards to the Secretary for review or approval.

    Third, the Secretary is prohibited from exercising any direction or supervision over a State's academic standards.

    The Secretary is also prevented from using executive authority to create terms and conditions that should be done through the legislative process, including the following: First, the Secretary is prohibited from adding new requirements through regulations.

    Second, the Secretary is prohibited from adding new requirements as a condition of approval of a State plan.

    Third, the Secretary is prohibited from dictating what should happen in early education.

    Fourth, the Secretary is prohibited from creating new policies through redefining terms or phrases in the law.

    Furthermore, the legislation protects States' rights to control their education system by ensuring the Secretary is prohibited from: coercing a State to adopt any particular curriculum or program of instruction; prescribing the long-term goals or measurements of interim progress, or the weights of State-determined indicators, or the methodology for identifying low-performing schools, in the State's accountability system; requiring any specific assessments be used by a State; dictating any particular school support or improvement strategies or interventions; or requiring any measures of teacher, principal, or other school leader effectiveness.

    Section 1111(e) clearly states the Secretary may not add any requirements or criteria outside the scope of this act and further says the Secretary may not take any action that would ``be in excess of statutory authority given to the Secretary.'' This section goes on to lay out specific terms the Secretary cannot prescribe, sets clear limits on the guidance the Secretary may offer, and also clearly states that the Secretary is prohibited from defining terms that are inconsistent with or outside the scope of this Act.

    There are also provisions in titles I and VIII that ensure standards and curriculum are left to the discretion of States without Federal control or mandates, and the same is true for assessments.

    The legislation also clearly lays out congressional intent by including a sense of Congress that States and local educational agencies retain the right and responsibility of determining educational curriculum, programs of instruction, and assessments.

    The legislation makes it clear the Secretary is not to put any undue limits on the ability of States to determine their accountability systems, their standards, or what tests they give their students. The clear intent of this legislation restores responsibility for the authority over education decisions back to the States and severely limits the Secretary's ability to interfere in any way.

    Ensuring a limited role for the U.S. Secretary of Education was a critically important priority throughout the reauthorization process and this legislation meets that priority. For example, the Secretary may not limit the ability of States to determine how the measures of student performance are weighted within State accountability systems. The legislation does not authorize the Secretary to issue regulations that specify a specific weight or a range of weights that any indicator must fall within when States setting up their system. Any weights or ranges of weight of each indicator will be determined by the State. The Secretary also cannot prescribe school support or improvement strategies, any aspect of a State's teacher evaluation system, or the methodology used to differentiate schools in a State.

    Also, the Secretary may not create new policy and requirements by creatively defining terms in the law. Definitively, this new law reins in the Secretary and ensures it is State and local education officials making decisions about their schools.

    Under current law, the current Secretary and previous Education officials have exceeded their authority by placing conditions on waivers to States and local educational agencies outside the scope of the legislative language or congressional intent. This legislation prevents the Secretary from applying any new conditions on waivers or the State plans required in the law. The language clearly states the Secretary may not add any new conditions for the approval of waivers or State plans that are outside the scope of the law. This means if the law does not give the Secretary the authority to require something, then the Secretary may not unilaterally create an ability to do that through regulation, approval or disapproval of State plans, binding guidance, or any other means of enforcement.

    Finally, this legislation sets up a more inclusive and transparent negotiated rulemaking process, particularly for any regulations related to standards, assessments, or supplement, not supplant requirements in the law. All regulations, if any, issued on these items must adhere to agreements reached by negotiators in negotiated rulemaking. The Secretary may not ignore agreements reached. The legislation also requires an alternative process for regulations if consensus is not reached through negotiated rulemaking, including a review of the time, costs, and paperwork burden of any proposed regulations. Congress will also be given an opportunity to review any proposed regulations for 15 days prior to submission to the Federal Register. Additionally, the public will have 60 days to comment on any proposed regulations. The purpose of these new requirements is for the Department of Education to be more transparent in what burden new regulations will place on States, school districts, and schools. Additionally, by giving Congress and the public the opportunity to explicitly weigh in on proposed regulations, the intent is that the Department will listen to thoughts from people on the ground regarding how they will be impacted.

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