Student Success Act—Conference Report—Continuedby Senator Patty Murray
Posted on 2015-12-08
MURRAY. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Ayotte). Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mrs. MURRAY. Madam President, I am so pleased that the Senate is taking the last few legislative steps to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA.
Our bipartisan bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, will end the one-size-fits-all mandates of No Child Left Behind. It will reduce reliance on high-stakes testing, and 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. One of the best ways to help students succeed in school is by offering high- quality early learning opportunities for kids.
I am proud our bipartisan bill will also improve and expand access to preschool programs for more of our Nation's youngest learners. Preschool is actually how I got my start in politics in the mid-1980s. At the time I wasn't thinking about running for the U.S. Senate or even the State legislature in [[Page S8471]] Washington. I just had one specific goal in mind. The State legislature at the time was going to close down preschools in my small community because of budget cuts. I knew the impact that would have on my own kids and on the kids I saw in the classroom, but when I went to talk to State legislators about it with my kids, they wouldn't listen. They didn't think our voices mattered, and they didn't think preschool should be a priority.
So I picked up the phone and started calling other parents. We held rallies, we wrote letters, and when it was all said and done, we won. The legislature reinstated the funding for the preschool program and more kids in my State were able to finally start school ready to learn.
I still believe early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make in our country. It is why I fought so hard to improve and expand the preschool program throughout this process to fix No Child Left Behind. It is why I worked across the aisle with Senator Isakson and many other colleagues in the HELP Committee to design a preschool program in our bipartisan Senate bill, and it is one of the reasons this final legislation that we will vote on tomorrow will be such a strong step for students in the years to come.
I hope our colleagues join me and everyone in passing the Every Student Succeeds Act for students, for parents, for teachers, and for communities across the country. Early childhood education is so important for our children's future and for the future of our country. Let's go through the research.
Before children ever set foot in kindergarten, studies show they have already developed a foundation that will determine all of the learning, health, and behavior that follows. High-quality early learning programs can strengthen that foundation. Preschool is especially important for kids from low-income backgrounds. By the time an average child growing up in poverty turns 3 years old, she will have heard 30 million fewer words compared to a child from a middle-income or high-income family, according to researchers at the University of Kansas. That is a serious disadvantage.
By the time she starts kindergarten a few years later, the deck will already be stacked against her and her future success. Many families across the country don't have the option of sending their youngest learners to preschool. Today, in fact, just 14 percent of 3-year-olds in America are enrolled in federally or State-funded preschool programs and 41 percent of our 4-year-olds are enrolled.
If we are serious about closing the achievement gap in elementary and secondary education and if we are truly committed to making sure every student has the chance to succeed, we have to invest in quality early childhood education.
On the Senate floor in January, I said we should only pass a bill to reauthorize the ESEA if it expands access to preschool programs. I am very pleased our bill follows through on that commitment. The Every Student Succeeds Act will mark the first time that the Nation's primary, elementary, and secondary education law includes dedicated funding to make sure kids start kindergarten ready to learn. It does so by establishing a competitive grant program for States that proposes to improve coordination, quality, and access to early childhood education for kids from low-income and disadvantaged families. Those grants will help States such as Washington build on the progress it has already made to improve quality and increase access to high-quality preschool programs.
I am very proud of the bipartisan bill we have on the floor and all it does to improve and expand access to preschool, but we still have work to do. I will continue to work to do even more for kids and families in Washington State and across the country. I will continue fighting hard to make sure that if a family wants to send their child to a quality preschool program, there will be an open slot for them, because when all students have the chance to learn, we strengthen our future workforce, our Nation grows strong, our economy grows from the middle out, not the top down, and we empower the next generation of Americans to lead the world.
As a former preschool teacher myself, I saw firsthand the kind of transformation that early learning can inspire in a child. It is something I have never forgotten. On my very last day of teaching preschool, before I left to serve in our Washington State Senate, my students gave me this great big, large, blue quilt. Each square was decorated by a student in my preschool class and that quilt now hangs in my U.S. Senate office. It reminds me every single day that investing in young children is one of the most important things we can do to help them succeed.
Tomorrow the Senate will have the chance to vote in favor of helping more kids start school on a strong footing. We have the chance to fix No Child Left Behind with a bill that recognizes the importance of early learning, and we have a chance to make sure one of the smartest investments we can make in our Nation's youngest learners has begun.
I urge my colleagues to pass this bill for their future and the future of our Nation.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Jersey.