Student Success Act—Conference Report—Continuedby Senator Tim Kaine
Posted on 2015-12-08
KAINE. Mr. President, I rise in support of the Every Student
Succeeds Act. I know we have had one vote on this today already, and we
will have another vote tomorrow.
I will begin by applauding Senators Murray and Alexander and Congressmen Klein and Scott for reaching across the aisle and working with their committee colleagues and the Members of both bodies to fixing a long expired and broken law. I think we all understand that education is key to both individual success and to our economic success.
ESSA gives parents, school districts, and States flexibility to close the achievement gaps that the No Child Left Behind helped us explore. ESSA maintains critical assessment requirements, but it also requires schools to track the progress of every child while also allowing States and school districts to set their own goals for improvement and determine what interventions are best when these achievement gaps persist. It invests in early childhood education, it permanently authorizes the Preschool Development Grant Program, and Virginia was one of the first States to receive a challenge grant. The bill recognizes there are factors other than test scores that describe students' success, and that is a significant advance past No Child Left Behind.
I rise particularly because I am proud that a number of provisions that I worked on and that the Presiding Officer worked on were included in the final bill. Let me talk about two of them: Teach safe relationships and career and technical education.
Senator McCaskill and I introduced a bill called the Teach Safe Relationships Act that came out of a conversation that I had with students a year ago at the University of Virginia. These students were members of a student organization called One Less, which advocates for survivors of campus rape and sexual assault.
There had been a story in the Rolling Stone magazine about the scourge of campus sexual assault. Many of the statistics were correct, but the story was controversial because it focused on a particular allegation of sexual assault that was later discredited, and Rolling Stone retracted the article.
I sat down with a group of about 30 students--no press, no faculty, no administrators--to talk about the problem of campus sexual assault. It has been a long time since I was a college student, and I wanted to hear them talk about the challenges they face. It was a robust discussion. These students didn't all agree with each other about various points. But the goal was to get a sense from them about what we in Congress could do that would be helpful and what were things that we might want to do that would make us feel good but that wouldn't be helpful.
Many great ideas came out of that discussion, but there was one in particular that grabbed my attention. Students talked about the fact that they wished when they came to college, living away from home for the first time in their lives, that they knew more about issues such as coercion or consent to intimate behavior or especially where to go for help or what to do if you felt like somebody was pressuring you. I kind of naively said to the students: Well, don't you have an orientation about sexual assault? And they said: We do. Here is what it is. It is 15 minutes about campus sexual assault, and it is 15 minutes about not getting too many credit cards, and it is 15 minutes about not drinking too much. Basically, we are new on campus, and it is just not enough.
Then I asked a follow up question: Don't you learn about this in sex ed classes in high school? One of the young ladies in the room said: We get a sex ed curriculum in high school, but it is about reproductive biology, not about behaviors and relationships and strategies and sort of the right and wrong issues. I thought that was really interesting.
So I came back after hearing from them--and, again, I honor these students, because from the idea to the passage, hopefully tomorrow, it has been a year from hearing from them, and now, because of them, there is going to be an important advance in public safety.
What the students basically forced me to do was to come back and analyze the problem of sexual assault. We have been dealing with it in the military. We deal with it on college campuses. We deal with it in the society at large. We can either have strategies that are specific to the military or college campuses or the workplace or society, or we can actually acknowledge campus sexual assault.
Instead of focusing on where it happens, let's focus on when it happens. If you are a young person--let me put it differently. The most likely time in your life when you will be a victim of a sexual assault is age 16 to 24. It doesn't make a difference whether you are in the military or on a college campus or anywhere else. It is at a time in your life when you are kind of new to [[Page S8461]] adult sexuality issues and kind of grappling with it that you are most likely to be a victim of sexual assaults, and also many perpetrators of sexual assaults are in the same age range.
The students said: What if we had better education in the K-12 space. In February, Senator McCaskill and I introduced a bill taking the campus sexual assault problem and trying to do something about it during the K-12 educational timeframe, and we called it the Teach Safe Relationships Act. The bill was rolled into the Senate version of the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the final compromise conference report includes it. Provisions are included so that title IV Federal educational funding can now be used specifically for instruction and training on safe relationship behavior among students, and this should help us deal with the issue of sexual assault.
I want to thank the conference committee for including it in the bill. It is my hope that school systems will now take advantage of this title IV funding--most school systems receive it--to prevent sexual assault not just on college campuses but for anybody in that age 16 to 24 age range that is vulnerable.
Second, the Presiding Officer, Senator Baldwin, and I introduced a number of pieces of legislation dealing with career and technical education that have been included in the bill. The provisions include encouragement to States to use more career readiness indicators in their accountability systems to define what educational success is. This gives the States the opportunity to recognize schools that are successfully preparing students for postsecondary education and workforce tools such as technical skills and college credits. It shouldn't be just about performance on multiple choice tests. If you are getting a validated industry certificate or other measure of success, that should count.
We encourage States and school districts to support the development of a specialized teacher core to help teachers integrate career and technical education into their normal academic subjects. We allow schools to use title IV funds for career counseling, programming, and training on local workforce needs, and for options for postsecondary and career pathways.
Finally, we include CTE in the definition of a well-rounded education. Traditionally, under No Child Left Behind, it was just math, English, social studies, and science. Career and technical education and some other subjects ought to be included in the definition of a well-rounded education.
CTE is an important pathway for students to prepare for the workforce by integrating practical, applied purposes with work-based knowledge and hands-on learning experiences. I am the son of an iron worker and welder. I ran a school in Honduras that taught kids to be carpenters and welders. I believe deeply in the power of CTE. In fact, I see it every day across the Commonwealth of Virginia, just as I know the Presiding Officer sees it every day in the State of Ohio. Carroll County in rural, southern Virginia, right on the border with North Carolina, has a state-of-the-art agriculture CTE program, which I visited this summer, set up with Virginia Tech, as good as any college campus. It not only helps students who want to be farmers, but those students who want to be farmers suddenly find that when they are studying soil chemistry in a CTE lab, their chemistry grades go up as well.
In Ashburn I saw a robotics program in Loudoun County that was successful. In Virginia Beach a CTE program helps students learn how to build houses, training them for construction careers, and the houses they build are pretty impressive.
In closing, this year marks the 50th anniversary that President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law. Our Nation's prosperity is dependent upon students' educational success, and this rewrite is incredibly important. I am excited about the reauthorization and these provisions.
Again, I thank Senators Murray and Alexander and their staffs, and let me extend thanks to my staff, two of whom are here. Let me extend thanks to my wife, who is the Secretary of Education in Virginia. She sat down with the committee staffs in the Senate to share some Virginia experiences that then factored into the rewrite of the ultimate bill.
It is my hope that this is going to pass with a big bipartisan margin tomorrow. This is a tough, complicated area that was 8 years overdue to be reauthorized because it is so controversial. Yet we found a path forward that is bipartisan, and that tells me we can do it not only on this issue but on other issues as well.
With that, I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The senior assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.