Student Success Act—Conference Report—Continuedby Senator Michael B. Enzi
Posted on 2015-12-08
ENZI. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for
the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. ENZI. Mr. President, I rise today to express my strong support for S. 1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act. This legislation sends the responsibility of educating our Nation's students back to where it belongs--with States and local communities.
I wish to commend Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray for their work to advance this legislation through a very ideologically diverse HELP Committee, which they did with a unanimous vote. The full Senate then had a vote. That vote was 81 to 17. Then we had a conference committee. We haven't had many conference committees. It was there that we met with the House of Representatives to iron out differences between the two bills, and that passed by a vote of 38 to 1.
It has been a long time since we have had numbers like that record. In fact, it has been a long time since bills went to committee and had the opportunity to be amended in committee, and then went to the floor of the Senate and had the opportunity to be amended on the floor. Of course, it is even more unusual to have a conference committee--because it passed both Chambers--and come up with a 38-to-1 approval of the conference report, which is what is now before us. This is one of those instances where we get to vote for it or we get to vote against it. I am hoping that almost everybody votes for it, just as in these previous votes.
We in Wyoming are very proud of our school system. We are proud of the way we support our students. We are proud of the way we support our educators. We are proud of the way we support our staff. In fact, the Constitution of Wyoming says there will be equal education for every child. We carry that to an extreme. In Wyoming, that means there has to be equal buildings, as well as opportunities, facilities, and teachers. That is run through the courts every once in a while just to make sure it is observed, and it is, and we are proud of our students, our buildings, and the education we provide. We are very proud of the way it helps to prepare our students for what is next and ensures they have the tools necessary to succeed in a rapidly evolving society.
This bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, ensures that Wyoming teachers and school leaders have the power to [[Page S8466]] tailor education to meet the needs of all students, even in the most rural and remote communities. Wyoming is the least populated State in the Nation, and we have probably some of the smallest schools. We believe kids shouldn't have to ride a bus to or from school for more than an hour, and as a result, we have some schools that have one student or two students or three students. That is a little different kind of school than most of the Nation has.
For too long now, I have heard stories from teachers, from students, and from parents across Wyoming about the harm inflicted by the prep- for-the-test system that has been in place. That ends with the signing of this bill.
Our Nation's students deserve the opportunity to learn in innovative and creative ways that will stimulate their minds and open their eyes to the countless opportunities we have in this great country. Our Nation's teachers and school leaders deserve the highest levels of support and training to help our students recognize those opportunities and help prepare the next generation. Our Nation's parents deserve the option to choose what educational opportunities are best for their child. This act ensures that all of that can occur by empowering States and local communities to make the decisions they think are best. This is a diverse country. There are a lot of differences among our States. We have some common policies, we have some common laws, but there are still differences.
I am always a little riled when we are compared with some of the other countries around the world on how our students are doing. I have been the Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee before and I did some research into that; I visited some countries to see what their education was like. One of the ways they get better scores on their tests is they kick kids out of school. In India, they guarantee a sixth grade education. They say they guarantee a sixth grade education. They do a cleansing of the schools in fourth grade. They say ``These kids are not participating in their education enough,'' and they kick them out of school. Those kids will make brooms by day and sweep streets at night, and they will earn $1 a day for the rest of their lives. That is it--no opportunity for any advancement. That is in fourth grade, even though they are guaranteed a sixth grade education.
In sixth grade, they have another purge. In fact, those kids will wind up in jobs where they make $2 a day for the rest of their lives, with no opportunity for change. They allow only 7 percent of the kids to go to college. There is tremendous competition that probably makes some difference in their scores. But weeding out kids makes a difference. Thank goodness in this country we don't believe in that. We believe every kid should have an opportunity, and we give them an opportunity as long as we can.
Local school boards are a terrific example of democracy at its finest. In those meetings, individuals in the community can come together to discuss and debate issues related to the education of their youth. It is in those meetings that students can voice their opinions and have a say in their own educational experiences. It is in those meetings that teachers and student leaders can put forth what they think is the best course of action to teach the content in a way that best meets the needs of that community. It is in those meetings that all of those parties can decide how they want to spend educational funds within the budget that the members of that community voted on.
The Every Student Succeeds Act that we will vote on tomorrow gives that power back to the local school boards. It allows issues to be debated and decisions to be made in a room of parents, students, teachers, school leaders, and community members who know best what works for the students. It is one of the purest forms of democracy I can think of, and certainly it is something I think our Founders had in mind in their idea of America and, in particular, their idea of educating our students.
I know there are some people who are going to vote against this bill, and I have asked why. The most common answer is it doesn't go far enough. It goes further than anything that has been done in this Chamber since the Department of Education was founded. This reverses things back to States' rights.
I work around here under the 80-percent rule. I have found that we can talk civilly about 80 percent of the issues. If we stick to that 80 percent, we can be productive. If we go to the other 20 percent--it is 10 percent on each side, Republicans and Democrats--we both have certain things that we would like to see and that we think are right, and we have been fighting over them for decades. But if we stick to that 80 percent, we can be productive. We can find something that we can have some common ground on. I have found that we usually only have 80 percent common ground on any of the issues because, again, there is that 10 percent that each side feels is right and that we would like to do. So the best way to get some legislation done is to leave out some of those things and go ahead and get what we can. This bill does that.
I think it goes beyond 80 percent, incidentally, but we can get the whole 100 percent. The way to do it is to get both sides together and keep them out of the weeds long enough--the old rhetoric they have been arguing about, where they hear a key word and know the answer to it immediately and don't have to listen. If you can get them to sit down and listen and think of a new way to do it, we would get 100 percent because when we come up with that new idea that both sides can grab on to, they both claim it is their idea, and we move on. We are not at that point yet on education.
I commend the Chairman of the committee, Senator Alexander, and the Ranking Member, Senator Murray, for coming together on 80 percent of what can get done and working to get it done. The alternative is to get nothing done. We need to get something done. People have been complaining that this law has been unauthorized for years. This is the first chance we have had to actually move forward with education, to move it back to the States where it will be most effective, where those diverse States can make up their minds on what will work best with their students.
Incidentally, most of our States are as big as any of those countries we compete with, with the exception of China, Russia, and India. They are making decisions for their State when they are making their education decisions. That is what this bill will do.
There aren't any perfect bills. I particularly don't like comprehensive bills. ObamaCare was a comprehensive bill. But my idea of a comprehensive bill is that it is so big that people can't understand it, and it is so big that stuff can get shoved in there that nobody will even notice when it is being done. This is one of those bills that has been worked on for a long time. It has been taken carefully in steps and put together so that we can move forward with it.
The question is, Will it work? Yes, it will work. Will it do everything that everybody wants? Hardly anything ever does. This bill will come as close to doing something--as I said, I believe it is the most progress we have had since we got a Department of Education, which is a whole other debate.
I have been proud to support this legislation from its very early stages, and I will continue to support it tomorrow. The responsibility of the education of our Nation's students belongs to States and local communities. The Every Student Succeeds Act ensures that responsibility is given to those entities.
I urge my colleagues to support this legislation, an improvement in education.