Speeches & Floor Statements

Alexander Encourages All Senators To Vote In Support of Cloture on Bill to Fix No Child Left Behind

Posted on December 8, 2015

This is a day of rare opportunity in the United States Senate.

We have an opportunity today to vote to reverse the trend of the last several years toward a national school board. 

We have an opportunity to make clear that, in the future, the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability will be through states, communities and classrooms and not through Washington, D.C.  

We have the opportunity to vote in favor of what the Wall Street Journal has called “the largest devolution of federal control to states in a quarter-century.”     

We have an opportunity to inaugurate a new era of innovation and excellence in student achievement by restoring responsibility to states and classroom teachers. Tennessee was the first state to pay teachers more for teaching well.  Minnesota educators created the first charter schools. The real advances in higher standards and accountability and appropriate testing have come from classroom teachers and governors, not from Washington, D.C., and I believe and that’s where those advances will come from in the future.

We have an opportunity today to provide much needed stability and certainty to federal education policy for some important people who are counting on us: 50 million children and 3.4 million teachers in 100,000 public schools.

Newsweek magazine recently reminded us what we already knew very well: No Child Left Behind is “the law everybody wants fixed.”

Governors, teachers, superintendents, parents, Republicans, Democrats, and students all want to see this law fixed.

There is a consensus about that.

And, fortunately, there is a consensus about HOW to fix it.

And that consensus is this: Continue the law’s important measures of academic progress of students—disaggregate and report the results of those measurements—but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about those tests and about improving student achievement. 

 In our Senate hearings we heard more about over-testing than any other subject. I believe this new law will result in fewer and better tests because states and classrooms teachers will be deciding what to do about the results of those tests. 

Building on this consensus is why in the Senate our bill passed 22-0 in committee and 81-17 on the floor.

That is why conferees from the Senate and House were able to agree, 38-1.

That is why last Thursday the House of Representatives approved the conference report, 359-64.    

And that is why the National Governors Association gave our conference report the first full endorsement it has given any legislation in nearly twenty years.

And that is why the Chief State School Officers, the school superintendents, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers all have supported this result.

This consensus will end the waivers through which the U.S. Department of Education has become, in effect, a national school board for more than 80,000 Schools in 42 states. Governors have been forced to go to Washington and play “Mother, May I?” in order for a state to put in a plan to evaluate teachers or help a low performing school, for example.

It will end the federal Common Core mandate. It explicitly prohibits Washington from mandating or even incentivizing Common Core or any other specific academic standards.  

It moves decisions about whether schools and teachers and students are succeeding or failing out of Washington, D.C., and back to states and communities and classroom teachers where those decisions belong.

I am grateful to Sen. Murray, Reps. Kline and Scott, and to all the members of our Senate education committee for the leadership they have shown and the way they have worked on this legislation.

I am grateful to both the Democratic and Republican staffs in the Senate and the House for their ingenuity and hard work.

Fixing No Child Left Behind has not been not easy.  Everyone is an expert on education. This has been a lot like being in a football stadium with 100,000 fans, all of whom know exactly which play to call—and usually say so.

Some Republicans would like even more local control of schools.

I am one of them.

But my Scholarship for Kids proposal, which would have given states the option to allow federal dollars to follow children to the schools their parents choose, only received 45 votes in the Senate. It needed 60. 

So I have decided, like a president named Reagan once advised, that I will take 80 percent of what I want and fight for the other 20 percent on another day.

Besides, if I were to vote no, I would be voting to leave in place the federal Common Core mandate and voting to leave in place the waivers that permit the U.S. Department of Education to act as a national school board for 80,000 schools in 42 states—and voting against the largest step toward local control of schools in 25 years.

Let me repeat that: Voting no is voting to leave in place the Common Core mandate and the national school board and voting against the largest step toward local control of schools in 25 years.

This law expired eight years ago. It has become unworkable. If it were strictly applied, it would label nearly every school in America a failing school.

So states and teachers and children and parents have been waiting eight years for us to reauthorize this law. 

If this were homework, they would give Congress an F for being tardy.

It is a great privilege to serve in the United States Senate.

But there is no need for us to have that privilege if all we do is announce our different opinions or vote no if we don’t get 100 percent of our way.

We could do that at home, or on the radio, or in the newspaper or on the street corner.

As United States senators, after we have had our say, our job is to get a principled result.

Today we have that opportunity.

I hope that today we will demonstrate that we understand that privilege and that we cherish our children by building upon this consensus by voting yes to fix the law that everybody wants fixed and restoring responsibility for our schools to states, communities and classroom teachers.