Enzi: ESEA Bill Represents Good Starting Point in Legislative Process

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Ranking Member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today made the following statement during the Committee’s markup of the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your willingness to work with me to get a bill to this point in our reauthorization efforts.  Neither of us can say this is a perfect document.  It is a starting point in the legislative process that is just the beginning.  So I appreciate having the opportunity to work with you to take this first step.

Well over a year ago we came together to try to address broad categories of concerns -- to some extent, problems that needed fixing – with No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  We did this after a series of hearings listening to our constituents and colleagues, and in my case, working with Senator Alexander to identify what we should keep and what needed to be changed through reauthorization.  We have worked since then to address the areas that needed changing, obviously bringing our own interpretations on how best to accomplish that, but ultimately finding middle ground to move this reauthorization document forward. 

On the central issues of accountability, standards, assessments, teachers and principals, parental involvement, and the role of the federal government, we have fought hard to reach this agreement, though neither of us would say it is perfect.  From where I sit, far more could have been done to allow states and locals to take the lead in the nine areas Senator Alexander and I identified as issues needing fixing.  I also acknowledge, Mr. Chairman that you would have gone further in the opposite direction to reach these goals.  But, with nearly every successful piece of bipartisan legislation, we need to find those areas with which we agree and go forward trying to find solutions where resolution is not as obvious.  Finding bipartisan solutions is essential to passing legislation.

On substance, there is no doubt a rewrite of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is necessary.  Over the past decade I have heard countless times that NCLB's rigid federal accountability system handcuffs states, micromanaging how school administrators and teachers approach instruction, leaving very little room for innovation and creative approaches in the classroom.  Although the fundamental tenet of NCLB - a good education for every student - was a good one that is retained in this proposal, the approach to reaching that goal was built upon the flawed belief that Washington can solve every problem in education if we only pass just one more law, one more regulation, one more program, and throw more taxpayer dollars at our classrooms. 

On the contrary, I believe we can approach this issue by giving states and school districts the resources needed to support instruction and by providing transparency of results to parents so that they know whether their child is receiving a quality education.  This bill rejects the notion that states and schools cannot be trusted to ensure that every child receives the education they need and that Washington has to continually interfere so that their students can succeed.

This draft improves upon NCLB's robust reporting and parental involvement and requires the Secretary of Education to report annually on how schools are performing nationally.  It maintains disaggregated reporting on subgroups and annual assessments.  I want to be clear however, only one test is required under this proposal, which is the same as it is under NCLB.  In addition, parents will know about teacher qualifications and receive report cards on how their children are doing in school.  Furthermore, it says to parents that the federal government will assist in providing the most up-to-date and relevant data relating to your child’s education. 

Senator Alexander has long supported the idea of a “Secretary’s Report Card”, submitted by the Secretary of Education, which provides a snapshot of the nation’s progress in education.  This snapshot would allow parents in Wyoming to compare how their children are doing to children across the country.  I applaud Senator Alexander for putting forward this idea, which in my opinion is one of the key components of how this legislation helps parents understand whether their child is achieving in school to be college and career ready. 

The bill eliminates dozens of programs that no longer serve a purpose or are duplicative of other programs, even in agencies other than the Department of Education.  We have also streamlined many additional programs into consolidated, flexible spending authorities.  The proposal also increases the flexibility states and school districts have to transfer funds across programs to make sure that they are being used to address identified student needs. 

Importantly, the bill tells our nation's worst performing schools: this is your "last chance".  Currently, schools that have failed to do their job, that are the lowest performing schools in a state, continue to receive federal funding.  This proposal gives these schools a final chance to turn things around by using specific models that have produced results.  The bill does away with Adequate Yearly Progress and Annual Measurable Objectives and instead expects all students to be making progress toward achieving college and career readiness. 

For the remaining schools, the legislation noticeably rejects the “Washington Knows Best” approach contained under current law.  It reduces the Federal footprint for these schools recognizing that states, when given the chance to innovate, will actually do the right thing and educate their students in the best way they can.  It further recognizes the promising work of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the common core standards initiative, dissemination of best practices relating to teachers and curriculum and innovative approaches to charter schools.  But it does each of these – most importantly in my view – not by a top-down mandate, but by providing the room for states to operate.  In particular, with respect to standards, this bill allows states to develop their standards against what they consider necessary for students to be college and career ready.

On process, in light of President Obama’s – in my view political – announcement of waivers for states, it is even more important that Congress act now.  Legislating is undoubtedly the right of Congress, not the bureaucracy of the Department of Education.  I agree that the President has the authority to waive requirements of the law at the request of states.  However, I don’t believe that this authority extends to substituting or adding requirements that are not in current law in order for states to receive those waivers.  We have gone far beyond the timeframe allotted to change NCLB, but waivers are not the way to correct the law based on what we have learned over the past 10 years.  What we are doing today through the legislative process is.

Members on my side should keep in mind that if they are concerned about issues such as mandated teacher and principal evaluations and performance measures, they should support today’s draft legislation which does neither, but is contained as a requirement in the President’s conditional waivers.  If they are concerned about an unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy becoming a kind of National School Board, they should support this legislation, rather than allow the Secretary’s waivers to dictate the strings that come with state and local flexibility contained in the President’s waivers.  And finally, if they are concerned about the sea of redundant and duplicative programs still authorized under current law, they should support this legislation which eliminates or consolidates 40 programs, but which is not contained in the President’s conditional waivers. 

This bill does not solve everything.  It is not meant to be the whole answer.  It is to correct what we have learned is problematic with NCLB and build on those things that helped move us closer to making sure that each child receives the best education possible.  This bill does not preclude consideration of other education bills – and I would welcome some of those ideas coming before this committee as separate bills, rather than trying to get though committee on the coat-tails of this bill. 

It is my hope that we can follow one of the successful precedents of this committee by:

  • staying with amendments relevant to the issue,
  • offering and withdrawing amendments that would be ‘poison pills’, and
  • offering and withdrawing amendments that, with some adjustment and additional work, could be agreed to on both sides and still get at the problem the author wants to address.

The HELP Committee, on education bills, has always been able to find a way to get a bipartisan bill done.  In fact, since 1965, every education bill that has reached the President’s desk for signature has had strong, bipartisan support.  This should not be the year that changes.  So please be considerate with what you propose.  Help us get this bill to the floor, where changes can again be made, and then to conference with the House, where undoubtedly, more work will need to be done.

With that said, I look forward to this markup and to hearing the ideas of members of both sides of the aisle.  Again, I believe this is a first step in reauthorizing ESEA and should be viewed as an opportunity to improve this bill.  I thank you for all the work you, Mr. Chairman, and our staff has done and look forward to furthering those efforts with our work today. 

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