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Murray delivers opening remarks as full Senate begins debate on bipartisan legislation to fix No Child Left Behind
 
Murray: “This work is a chance to recommit ourselves to the promise of a quality education for every child. And it is an opportunity to finally fix the current law, No Child Left Behind”
 
“As I have traveled around Washington state over the past decade, I have heard from so many of my constituents – from teachers in the classroom, to moms in the grocery store, to tech company CEOs – that we need to fix No Child Left Behind”

 

**VIDEO HERE**

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee delivered opening remarks as the Senate began floor consideration of the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), the bipartisan legislation she worked on with HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to fix the badly broken No Child Left Behind law. In her remarks, Murray outlined provisions in ECAA that would help ensure all students have access to a high-quality public education, including addressing high-stakes testing, giving states and local districts more flexibility by eliminating the one-size-fits-all provisions of No Child Left Behind, and including federal protections to help ensure students graduate from high school college-and-career ready.

 

Murray also highlighted improvements that can be made to the legislation as it moves forward, including strengthening requirements to hold schools and states accountable for educating every child, and making sure educational resources are distributed equally so all students have the tools they need to succeed.

 

Murray called on her colleagues to work across the aisle to give students, schools, and teachers much-needed relief from No Child Left Behind and to ensure all students have access to a high quality education, regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.

 

Read more about the Every Child Achieves Act here.

 

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“Today marks the first day of debate on our bipartisan bill to strengthen our education system by reauthorizing the nation’s K-12 education law – the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. This work is a chance to recommit ourselves to the promise of a quality education for every child. And it is an opportunity to finally fix the current law, No Child Left Behind.”

 

“As I have traveled around Washington state over the past decade, I have heard from so many of my constituents – from teachers in the classroom, to moms in the grocery store, to tech company CEOs – that we need to fix No Child Left Behind. So I was so glad that earlier this year, we got to work on a bipartisan basis to find common ground to do just that.  And I remain convinced that the only way to advance a bill to fix this broken law is with a bipartisan approach.  Students, teachers, and parents are counting on us to do this. And now, it’s time to take the next step, as we debate the Every Child Achieves Act here on the Senate floor.”

 

“This bill is a strong step in the right direction to finally fixing No Child Left Behind and making sure all students have access to a high-quality public education. It addresses high-stakes testing.  I’ve heard from parent after parent and teacher after teacher in Washington state that students are taking too many tests.  The current law over-emphasized test scores to measure how students are doing in school. This bill would give flexibility to states to use multiple measures, not just a single test score, to determine how well a school is performing.”

 

“The bill eliminates the one-size-fits-all provisions of No Child Left Behind that have been so damaging for schools and districts.  Instead, the bill allows communities, parents, and teachers to work together to improve schools and to ensure every child receives a well-rounded education. And the bill maintains federal protections to help students graduate from high school college-and-career ready.  And, the bill requires states to identify schools that need improvement.”

 

“…I believe we should strengthen the accountability requirements in this bill.  Too many schools have failed too many of our children for too many years. When we don’t hold schools and states accountable for educating every child, it’s the kids from low-income backgrounds, kids with disabilities, kids who are learning English, and kids of color who too often fall through the cracks.”

 

“Let’s remember that holding states accountable for all students will only work if schools get the resources they need to promote student success. Unfortunately, some schools simply don’t provide the same educational opportunities as others…A zip code should never determine a student’s academic success.  We need to do more to ensure all students have equitable resources.”

 

“…But there are other ideas out there that would derail any chance of passing this bill to fix No Child Left Behind.  I know some of my Republican colleagues are interested in making Title I funding ‘portable.’ The name sounds innocuous enough. But that proposal would allow funds to be taken away from the schools that need the most help. And it would defy the original purpose of our federal K-12 education law…Others are interested in voucherizing the public school system.  That would undermine the basic goals of public education by allowing funding, designated for our most at-risk students, to flow out of the public school system and into unaccountable private schools.  Vouchers are unacceptable and would jeopardize our bipartisan work.”

 

“Finishing this process and getting a bill signed into law isn’t going to be easy – nothing in Congress ever is. But students, parents, teachers, and communities across the country – including in my home state of Washington – are looking to Congress to fix this broken law. We can’t let them down.”

 

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“Thank you, M. President. 

 

“Since our nation’s founding, the idea of a strong public education for every child has been a part of the fabric of America.  Because, when all students have the chance to learn, we strengthen our future workforce, our country grows stronger, and we empower the next generation of Americans to lead the world.

 

“A good education can provide a ticket to the middle class. So improving education is an important part of what it means to grow our economy from the middle out, not the top down.

 

“Today marks the first day of debate on our bipartisan bill to strengthen our education system by reauthorizing the nation’s K-12 education law – the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. This work is a chance to recommit ourselves to the promise of a quality education for every child. And it is an opportunity to finally fix the current law, No Child Left Behind.

 

“I have been proud to partner with the senior Senator from Tennessee through this process. And I want to commend Chairman Alexander for working with me to create this bipartisan bill, and passing the Every Child Achieves Act through the education committee with unanimous support.

 

“M. President, I think it is important here at the onset to discuss why we need to fix the current law. I also want to lay out what we accomplished in the Every Child Achieves Act.   And I want to go through how I think we can best strengthen this bill and pass it through the Senate with bipartisan support. And I want to acknowledge my Committee Members as well. This bill is better, thanks to their hard work and commitment to their priorities and communities.

 

“Nearly everyone agrees that No Child Left Behind is badly broken.  For one, the current law required states to set standards for schools, but then didn’t give schools the resources they needed to meet those standards.

 

“Second, across the country, we’re still seeing inequality in education, where some schools simply don’t offer the same opportunities as others.  And some schools still have large achievement gaps.

 

“And I’ve seen firsthand how the law isn’t working for my home state of Washington. No Child Left Behind has become so unworkable that the Obama Administration began issuing waivers to exempt states from the law’s requirements.  Washington state had received a waiver, but lost it last year.  And now, most of the schools in my state are categorized as ‘failing.’

 

“A few months back, I stood here on the Senate floor and told the story of a mom from Shoreline, Washington, named Lillian. Last year, her son was going into the fourth grade in the same school district where I once served as a school board member.  Lillian’s son has a learning disability.  With the help of teachers and specialists at his elementary school, he had shown great signs of progress.

 

“But then, Lillian got a letter in the mail two weeks before school started. The letter described her son’s school as ‘failing.’ This left her worried about the kind of education her son was getting.  And she said it gave her a wave of uncertainty over the coming school year.

 

“As I have traveled around Washington state over the past decade, I have heard from so many of my constituents – from teachers in the classroom, to moms in the grocery store, to tech company CEOs – that we need to fix No Child Left Behind.

 

“So I was so glad that earlier this year, we got to work on a bipartisan basis to find common ground to do just that.  And I remain convinced that the only way to advance a bill to fix this broken law is with a bipartisan approach.  Students, teachers, and parents are counting on us to do this.

 

“And now, it’s time to take the next step, as we debate the Every Child Achieves Act here on the Senate floor.  This bill is a strong step in the right direction to finally fixing No Child Left Behind and making sure all students have access to a high-quality public education.

 

“It addresses high-stakes testing.  I’ve heard from parent after parent and teacher after teacher in Washington state that students are taking too many tests.

 

“The current law over-emphasized test scores to measure how students are doing in school. This bill would give flexibility to states to use multiple measures, not just a single test score, to determine how well a school is performing. 

 

“And, the bill would create a pilot program for states to design new assessments. That will provide states with more flexibility for innovation. These steps will reduce the pressure on students, teachers, and parents, so they can focus less on test-prep and more on learning.

 

“The bill eliminates the one-size-fits-all provisions of No Child Left Behind that have been so damaging for schools and districts.  Instead, the bill allows communities, parents, and teachers to work together to improve schools and to ensure every child receives a well-rounded education. And the bill maintains federal protections to help students graduate from high school college-and-career ready.  And, the bill requires states to identify schools that need improvement.

 

“When the education committee debated the bill, I was also proud to work on a bipartisan amendment with Senator Isakson to expand and improve early learning programs.  As a former preschool teacher, I’ve seen the kind of transformation that early learning can inspire in a child. So I am proud that this bill will help us expand access to high-quality early childhood education, so more kids can start kindergarten ready to learn. 

 

“Now, M. President, there are a few key ways that I want to continue improving this bill.

 

“First, I believe we should strengthen the accountability requirements in this bill.  Too many schools have failed too many of our children for too many years. When we don’t hold schools and states accountable for educating every child, it’s the kids from low-income backgrounds, kids with disabilities, kids who are learning English, and kids of color who too often fall through the cracks.

 

“Before No Child Left Behind, it was easy for schools to overlook the performance of these vulnerable groups of students.  Before 2002, as long as a school’s overall performance was okay, it didn’t matter if students of color or students from low-income backgrounds struggled to make progress year after year.  The overall average of all students allowed achievement gaps to be swept under the rug, even as some students fell further and further behind.

 

“We can’t go back to those days. And we can’t backtrack on holding schools accountable for helping all students learn.

 

“States should still be required to identify the schools that are struggling the most, so they can get the resources they need to improve.  And states need to identify the schools where some groups of students are not making enough progress. These schools should get the support and locally designed interventions they need to better serve their students.

 

“Let’s remember that holding states accountable for all students will only work if schools get the resources they need to promote student success. Unfortunately, some schools simply don’t provide the same educational opportunities as others.

 

“Oftentimes, students of color don’t even have the option to take an AP course or use up-to-date technology in the classroom.  African American and Latino students are significantly less likely to attend a high school that offers advanced math or art classes.  And on average, kids from low-income neighborhoods don’t have access to qualified and experienced teachers, like students from wealthier neighborhoods often do.

 

“A zip code should never determine a student’s academic success.  We need to do more to ensure all students have equitable resources.

 

“In the 1800s, Horace Mann, who is often called the Father of American education, worked to make it universal and free for all.  He famously said, ‘Education is the great equalizer.’ And I believe that’s true – but only if we continue to hold ourselves accountable for providing educational opportunities to all students.

 

“The Every Child Achieves Act takes some important steps to do just that. But as we debate this bill, I hope we can build on that progress and continue to move in the right direction.

 

“So, M. President, there are important ways we should be able to work together to improve this bill. But there are other ideas out there that would derail any chance of passing this bill to fix No Child Left Behind.

 

“I know some of my Republican colleagues are interested in making Title I funding ‘portable.’ The name sounds innocuous enough.

 

“But that proposal would allow funds to be taken away from the schools that need the most help. And it would defy the original purpose of our federal K-12 education law.

 

“ESEA is meant to help level the playing field for students growing up in poverty. Efforts to backtrack on our country’s commitment to target funds to the highest-need schools – and instead give funding away to more affluent schools – is just a nonstarter.

 

“Others are interested in voucherizing the public school system.  That would undermine the basic goals of public education by allowing funding, designated for our most at-risk students, to flow out of the public school system and into unaccountable private schools.  Vouchers are unacceptable and would jeopardize our bipartisan work.

 

“M. President, I am looking forward to our debate to make this good bill even better. A half century ago, President Lyndon Johnson directed Congress to improve education for our nation’s students.

 

“In January of 1965 – in what would be just months before signing ESEA into law – President Johnson said when it came to education, ‘nothing matters more to the future of our country.’

 

“That remains true today. The future of our country hinges on our students’ ability to one day lead the world. And a high-quality education for every student is one of the best investments our country can make to ensure we have broad-based and long-term economic growth.

 

“Finishing this process and getting a bill signed into law isn’t going to be easy – nothing in Congress ever is. But students, parents, teachers, and communities across the country – including in my home state of Washington – are looking to Congress to fix this broken law. We can’t let them down.

 

“We need to work across the aisle to help students, schools, and teachers get some much-needed relief from No Child Left Behind. We need to give states flexibility, while strengthening accountability and resource equity. And we need to work together to reaffirm our nation’s commitment to ensuring all students have access to a quality education, regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.

 

“By doing so, we will help our nation grow stronger for generations to come.

 

“Thank you, M. President. I yield the floor.”