Murray Blasts Republicans for Playing Politics to Weaken Bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act
(Washington, D.C.) – Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today delivered the following floor speech urging her colleagues to reject a Congressional Review Act (CRA) that would weaken the Every Student Succeeds Act and give Secretary DeVos a blank check to promote her anti-public school agenda.
Key excerpts of Senator Murray’s remarks:
“At its heart, the Every Student Succeeds Act is a civil rights law. And the rule that this resolution would eliminate reflects that reality. We know from experience that without strong accountability, kids from low-income neighborhoods, students of color, kids with disabilities, and students learning English too often fall through the cracks. And now it’s up to all of us to uphold civil rights legacy of the law and its promise for students.”
“M. President, one month into her tenure as Secretary of Education, Secretary DeVos has not done much to reassure parents who had serious concerns. She has made mistake after mistake – from grossly misrepresenting the origins of HBCUs to failing to protect transgender students in schools – proving what the American people saw at her confirmation hearing: her lack of understanding of public education is hurting our students. We cannot, in good conscience, provide Secretary DeVos another potential tool to implement ESSA with her anti-public education slant, and that’s exactly what passing this resolution would do.”
“So M. President, if unions, business and civil rights groups, disability advocate organizations, and the states are not asking for this, we must ask the question – why are my colleagues jamming this resolution through? What perceived problem are we trying to solve? Millions of students, parents and teachers have made their voices heard about the importance of public education. They want us to work together to uphold and build on our bipartisan law. Not for it to become just the latest partisan exercise that only hurts our students.”
Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, M. President.
I come to the floor on behalf of students, parents, teachers and communities around the country to urge my colleagues to support our bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, and to oppose this resolution today.
This resolution will roll back a rule issued by the Department of Education that is critical to the effective and intended implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act – or ESSA.
M. President—I am urging my fellow Senators to vote against this resolution for the following reasons—and I will go through each of them:
First, this legislation will throw states and school districts into chaos just as they are beginning to implement our law.
Second, it will give Secretary DeVos a blank check to promote her anti-public school agenda.
Third, passing this resolution would be a retreat from the bipartisan law President Obama called a “Christmas miracle” – and one that takes us down a strong partisan path that could undermine ESSA’s civil rights protections and guardrails.
But before I go into that, I want to remind my colleagues of what we are working on here, and what this resolution would unwind.
M. President—as many of my colleagues remember well, in 2015, the senior Senator from Tennessee and I came together, with so many others in this body, to fix No Child Left Behind.
We both agreed – in fact, nearly everyone around the country agreed – the law was badly broken.
No Child Left Behind relied too much on high-stakes standardized testing.
It gave schools unrealistic goals, but failed to give them the resources to meet these goals.
And it included one-size-fits-all punishments if those goals weren’t met.
M. President—we knew overhauling our public education law was not going to be easy—but we listened to teachers, parents, and students around the country to make sure their voices were heard.
And—I’m proud we were able to break through the partisan gridlock in Congress, find common ground, and pass the Every Student Succeeds Act with strong bipartisan support.
After a major law like the Every Student Succeeds Act passes, federal agencies usually issue rules to help implement and clarify the law.
The Every Student Succeeds Act maintains the Secretary’s authority to issue rules and clarifications that are consistent with law.
And this rule before us today is consistent with ESSA— and it provides important clarity to states, school districts, and schools.
M. President— using such a blunt instrument like this resolution to overturn the entire rule would be a retreat from bipartisanship.
Here’s how. This resolution would roll back a critical Department of Education rule that gives states more flexibility in key areas, while at the same time maintaining strong federal guardrails to ensure our most vulnerable children don’t fall through the cracks.
This rule provides clarity on accountability, reporting requirements, and state plan requirements.
And it helps ensure that no student, no matter where they live, can fall through the cracks.
In other words, M. President, this is a rule that gets at the heart and soul of what we were trying to accomplish with our bipartisan law.
And M. President, the Department of Education didn’t simply come up with this rule on its own.
It incorporated over 20,000 comments from education stakeholders, state chiefs, and district superintendents, many of whom, including the state chiefs and superintendents, applauded the Department of Education for listening to their concerns and incorporating their comments into the final rule released last fall.
M. President, during the debate around the Every Student Succeeds Act, there was some division about what accountability should mean in the law.
But our final law showed that we can balance flexibility with strong federal guardrails, until this point, when Republicans want to tear down the rule that ensures that those guardrails go into effect.
So M. President, now I want to get into some of the challenges that would be created if this resolution passed, and this rule was eliminated.
M. President, one important thing that this rule did was clarify state submission plan requirements and set deadlines for submission of those plans.
Based on this, states have been working with the Department of Education for months on state plans – and approximately 18 states and the District of Columbia intend to submit their plans in the beginning of April.
But if this rule goes away now—if the rug gets pulled out from under these states—there would be chaos, confusion, and an undermining of confidence in this new law.
And M. President—we are already seeing this start.
In February, Secretary DeVos sent a letter to state chiefs suggesting a new template for their state submission plans would be coming even before the Senate voted on this resolution and that the new template would be available less than a month before state plans are due.
This could force those impacted states to abandon their plans and start from scratch, and it does not allow enough time for the stakeholder review process that is required in the law.
So M. President, that is the first reason we should oppose this legislation—because there is simply no reason to insert more chaos into a system that is finally settling into our new law.
But the second reason is that passing this legislation would give Secretary DeVos a blank check over implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act to promote her anti-public school agenda.
M. President, as we saw in her confirmation hearing, Secretary DeVos has dedicated her career to privatizing public education.
She has a long record of fighting to cut investments in public schools, and shift taxpayer dollars toward private school vouchers.
In her hearings, she showed a lack of even basic understanding of key concepts in public education policy, and has openly questioned the role of the federal government in protecting our most vulnerable students.
After her hearings, millions of people across the country stood up, made their voices heard, and called on the Senate to reject her confirmation.
And although she squeaked through with a historic tie-breaking vote from Vice President Pence, it was clear that people across the country rejected her anti-public school agenda.
Instead, they wanted the Department of Education to stand with students and schools.
M. President, one month into her tenure as Secretary of Education, Secretary DeVos has not done much to reassure parents who had serious concerns.
She has made mistake after mistake – from grossly misrepresenting the origins of HBCUs to failing to protect transgender students in schools – proving what the American people saw at her confirmation hearing: her lack of understanding of public education is hurting our students.
We cannot, in good conscience, provide Secretary DeVos another potential tool to implement ESSA with her anti-public education slant, and that’s exactly what passing this resolution would do.
If this resolution passes, make no mistake, I will do everything I can to ensure that Secretary DeVos implements ESSA as Congress intended.
Let me be clear, Congress did not intend that DeVos or any future Secretary of Education could use this law to encourage, prioritize, or even require states to incentivize private school choice – and we will work to ensure that she does not take advantage of the chaos that will follow if this rule is overturned.
Providing Secretary DeVos a blank check would absolutely be the wrong way to go in the early stage of this law’s implementation.
So that is the second reason.
And the third reason, M. President, is that at its heart, the Every Student Succeeds Act is a civil rights law. And the rule that this resolution would eliminate reflects that reality.
We know from experience that without strong accountability, kids from low-income neighborhoods, students of color, kids with disabilities, and students learning English too often fall through the cracks.
And now it’s up to all of us to uphold civil rights legacy of the law and its promise for students.
I was proud to work with my colleague, the senior Senator from Tennessee on this law, and I know he is proud of what we accomplished.
But I am disheartened to see that my Republican colleagues are jamming this partisan play through in the same fashion they did with Secretary DeVos’ nomination.
Voting for this resolution will ruin the bipartisan nature of our Every Student Succeeds Act—and it will hurt our students.
But by voting against this resolution, we can make sure that ESSA works for all students, regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.
Finally, M. President, I want to make one more point. Even people who had concerns with the final rule do not want to see it overturned.
In fact, the American Federation of Teachers, civil rights groups, and the Chamber of Commerce – groups that aren’t always on the same side of education issues – are all speaking out against rolling back this rule.
And parents, teachers, community leaders—are all on the same page.
In a letter to the Senate, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers union said, “Repealing these regulations now would not just be counterproductive and disruptive, but would demonstrate a disregard by Congress of school districts’ operation and timelines.”
And in a letter to my colleagues Senators McConnell and Schumer, the Chamber of Commerce and various education groups, including the National Center for Learning disabilities wrote that rolling back this rule “will cause unnecessary confusion, disrupting the work in states and wasting time that we cannot afford to waste.”
So M. President—if unions, business and civil rights groups, disability advocate organizations, and the states are not asking for this, we must ask the question – why are my colleagues jamming this resolution through?
What perceived problem are we trying to solve?
M. President—Millions of students, parents and teachers have made their voices heard about the importance of public education.
They want us to work together to uphold and build on our bipartisan law.
Not for it to become just the latest partisan exercise that only hurts our students.
So M. President—a vote against this resolution is a vote for students. It’s a vote for schools. It’s a vote to not give Secretary DeVos power she can abuse. And it’s a vote to keep working together to build on our bipartisan law.
Thank you M. President, I yield the floor.
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