Alexander: “Committee Vote Is First Step in Getting Washington Out of the Business of Deciding Whether Schools Are Succeeding or Failing”

Says the Harkin-Enzi product passed by committee today “is an encouraging step forward, but not yet legislation I could vote to send to the president”

Posted on October 20, 2011

“If Congress does not act now, our inaction will transform the U.S. Secretary of Education into a waiver-granting czar over an unworkable law that has identified what he says may be as many as 80,000 ‘failing’ public schools, a development even worse than provisions in this draft that would make him a chairman of a national school board.” – Lamar Alexander  

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today voted in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to move legislation to fix No Child Left Behind to the floor for debate by the full Senate, where he said a full and open amendment process should “stop the legislation from creating a national school board.” He said it “is not yet legislation I could vote to send to the president.” The legislation passed the committee by a vote of 15-7.

Alexander urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, to bring the bill up for Senate consideration, saying, “There’s no reason Congress can’t get a bill to fix No Child Left Behind to the president’s desk by Christmas. If Congress doesn’t act now, our inaction will transform the U.S. Secretary of Education into a waiver-granting czar over an unworkable law that has identified what he says may be as many as 80,000 ‘failing’ public schools, a development even worse than provisions in this draft that would make him a chairman of a national school board.”

Alexander offered an amendment allowing states to establish an alternative, state-determined strategy to improve the bottom 5 percent of their schools, with approval by the U.S. Secretary of Education. The amendment was accepted by a vote of 15-7. Alexander said this amendment fixes the law by “getting Washington, D.C., out of the business of deciding which schools and teachers are succeeding and which are failing.”

Another amendment offered by Alexander and accepted unanimously would require local school districts to provide students in the bottom 5 percent of schools with the option to transfer to a better public school, prioritizing this option for students from low-income families in the worst schools, and requiring that students be treated the same as any other student and be allowed to stay in the school until they graduate.

Alexander offered five other amendments he said he plans to debate on the floor of the Senate. The five amendments would:

  1. Remove requirements that states identify the bottom 5 percent “achievement gap” schools per year; remove federally mandated interventions to close achievement gaps; remove the definition of achievement gap schools; and prohibit the federal government from regulating or defining achievement gaps. (“Achievement gap” schools are schools in which one group of students does much worse on state tests than other groups of students in the same school.)
  2. Eliminate the federal “highly qualified teacher” definition and remove the federal requirement that all teachers must be highly qualified, but require states to ensure that teachers meet applicable state-certification and licensure requirements.
  3. Remove the federal mandate that state accountability systems measure and report annually on the continuous improvement of all public schools and all students in the state, and prohibit the federal government from regulating and defining “continuous improvement.”
  4. Establish a process that defers to state and local innovation and provide transparent feedback to states on their “Title I Peer Review Process,” and require that the review of state plans be conducted in good faith, in their totality and in deference to state and local judgments, with the goal of promoting state- and local-led innovation. (The “Title I Peer Review Process” is how the U.S. Secretary of Education reviews state plans on how states will comply with federal education law.)
  5. Clarify that states may apply and the U.S. Secretary of Education shall approve waivers from the No Child Left Behind law, allowing the secretary to either immediately approve waivers or conduct a peer-review process that is deferential to state and local judgments; and prohibit the secretary from imposing any requirements to waiver requests not authorized by Congress.

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