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Harkin, HELP Committee Democrats Introduce Bill to Prepare All Children for Success and Fix “No Child Left Behind”

Bill to Reauthorize ESEA Would Provide America’s Children with the Skills They Need to Prepare for College and Careers

All 11 HELP Committee Democrats Sign on as Original Sponsors of Bill Introduced by Chairman Harkin, the “Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013”

Harkin Announces That HELP Committee Will Begin Markup on Tuesday, June 11

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and replace the failed tenets of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Harkin will hold a markup of the bill, which has been co-sponsored by every Democratic member of the HELP Committee, starting next Tuesday, June 11th.

“The HELP Committee has spent years holding hearings and debating the long-overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” Harkin said. “The bill I have introduced today will build on the current state-led reforms that support teachers and schools as they prepare America’s children with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college and careers. As we move forward with this bill, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to forge pragmatic solutions that will keep America’s schools on a path to success.”

“As our nation continues to look at how best to create jobs, how best to sustain jobs and how best to support high-paying jobs, we must look at how best to educate the children who will make up tomorrow’s workforce,” Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said. “If we educate and prepare them well, they can be anything. If we do not educate and prepare our children well, they will fail – and we will have failed them. I believe this bill takes us one step closer to succeeding.”

“This bill gives states and school districts the flexibility and resources they need to provide students with the path to success they deserve,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). “It recognizes that improving our education system means starting early, protecting students from falling through the cracks along the way, and ultimately, ensuring students graduate with the skills and knowledge needed to compete for jobs in the 21st century economy. I am proud to have helped author a bill that’s a step in the right direction for students in Washington state and I look forward to working with my colleagues to move this important legislation forward.”

“Too many American children do not receive the quality education they need," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). "This bill takes tremendous strides toward ensuring students and educators are well positioned for success."

“Every child deserves an education that prepares them to compete in the twenty-first century economy, and this bill is a positive step towards that goal,” said Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). “This legislation builds on decades of research on the importance of early learning by ensuring that students come to school ready to learn.  I’m also pleased that it supports efforts to keep students safe in the classroom and expands opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.” 

“The task of reforming and improving our education laws to make sure they fit the needs of today's students is long overdue,” said Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC). “I am pleased to see that several provisions I have championed in the past are a part of this bill, including components of my school turnaround bill, the Financial Literacy for Students Act and provisions that will improve education technology. Bipartisanship is critical to moving this bill forward as we work to give educators the tools they need to prepare our students to succeed in a global economy.”

“Children deserve access to a high-quality education and part of my responsibility in Congress is working to help make sure we have a world-class public education system for all students,” said Senator Al Franken (D-MN). “I’m pleased that the legislation we introduced today includes provisions I authored to allow assessments that measure student growth and strengthen leadership in our schools. Overall, this legislation will provide much-needed reform to our education system and help schools give students the tools they need to be successful.”

“If we want our kids and grandkids to succeed in the 21st century economy, we need to provide a quality education system that will prepare them to become the next generation’s inventors, doctors, engineers, educators, or whatever profession they choose to enter,” Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) said. “We’re not going to fix public education from Washington, but we can drive reform at the local level that will give every child a chance at a quality education no matter what zip code they are born into. This bill is a good beginning toward achieving that goal, and I hope we can get good input from our colleagues on both sides of the aisle through what I expect to be a full and transparent markup.”

“Chairman Harkin’s bill will improve our nation’s education policies by implementing some long-overdue reforms,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).  “I’m particularly pleased that it contains provisions I authored to help struggling middle schools and strengthen after-school programs.  I look forward to working with Chairman Harkin to get this important bill passed.”

“In Wisconsin we know that the surest path to the middle class is providing every child a quality education and the skills they need to succeed,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). “As we work to move our economy forward I believe a strong investment in education must be at the foundation of our efforts and building that foundation is a top priority of mine in the U.S. Senate. In order to strengthen and grow the middle class, we must strengthen our commitment to investing in our educators and public schools.”

“For the first time, the bill reauthorizing our nation’s federal education policy will include provisions to address a growing crisis dubbed the 'school-to-prison pipeline,’” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT). “Too many of our kids are expelled or pushed out of schools and consequently fall into the juvenile justice system, when instead the focus should be on keeping kids in school--where they belong. The bill also includes, for the first time, important support for positive, prevention-based approaches to school discipline. I’ve worked on these issues for a long time, and I’m proud to support this bill.”

“The Strengthening America’s Schools Act is an important step toward improving education for our children and encouraging innovation in schools,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). “It is imperative that all children have access to a quality K-12 education, and this bill helps us move toward that goal. I am pleased that this bill sets high standards, gives states the flexibility they need, and promotes programs that we know will help kids achieve higher goals.”

The Strengthening America’s Schools Act seeks to ensure that all of America’s children graduate college- and career-ready.  No Child Left Behind provided important information on student performance and accountability for federal dollars, but it also unintentionally led to lower standards, a narrowing of curriculum and a “one-size-fits-all” approach to school improvement.  The Strengthening America’s Schools Act would replace NCLB with a law that is fair to students and teachers, and provides states and districts with the certainty, support, and freedom they need to prepare all children for success in the 21st century. 

The Strengthening America’s Schools Act provides a framework to get all children to graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills needed for success in college and a career. It does this by:

  • Supporting teachers and principals to help provide high-quality instruction;
  • Ensuring disadvantaged students get the supports they need to succeed; and
  • Focusing federal attention on supporting states and districts in turning around low-performing schools and closing achievement gaps.

No Child Left Behind presented a host of problems for schools, students, and educators, including: setting inflexible benchmarks without taking into consideration the different needs of schools and without recognizing student progress; mandating the same federal sanctions for all schools that created a pressure to “teach to the test;” requiring states and schools to adhere to prescriptive, Washington-generated accountability models; and forcing school districts to spend money on activities that did not make sense for all students or schools. 

The Strengthening America’s Schools Act will establish a partnership of “shared responsibility” that recognizes the flexibility that states and districts need to implement their own accountability systems and interventions to improve schools, and enables states and districts to focus on turning around chronically struggling schools and those with significant achievement gaps.

The Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013will:

Focus greater attention on children in their early years to ensure they come to school ready to learn by:

  • Directing states to develop guidelines for what children should know and be able to do prior to kindergarten entry to reduce gaps in school readiness; 
  • Providing greater access to high-quality literacy instruction for children in early childhood education programs;
  • Encouraging states to provide full-day kindergarten if they do not currently provide that service; and
  • Asking elementary schools that are among the lowest-achieving to develop or expand early childhood education to children so they can enter school ready to learn.

Encourage equity through greater transparency and fair distribution of resources by:

  • Continuing the practice of disaggregating student achievement data across subgroups to highlight any potential disparities, and expand the categories of disaggregation to include gender and English proficiency;
  • Disseminating an equity score card to provide school-level information to parents on the school’s climate, the school’s educational opportunity offerings (such as AP, full-day kindergarten, or gifted programming), the number of assessments required, and the school’s funding by source (state, local, and federal); and
  • Ensuring that local and state resources per-pupil for Title I schools are equal to or greater than the average combined local and state funds per pupil in non-Title I schools.

Sustain current state reform efforts and provide them the flexibility they need to improve their schools:

  • If a state has an accountability system approved by the Secretary, it can continue to use their approved accountability system.  If not, a state will adopt an accountability system that is equally ambitious and holds all students to high expectations of student achievement.
  • All accountability systems will include student academic achievement and growth, English language proficiency for English Learners and, for high schools, graduation rates for all students; systems will also include accountability for all subgroups. This accountability system asks states to identify and support –
    • Priority schools - The lowest-achieving 5 percent of each elementary schools and secondary schools, and secondary schools with a graduation rate lower than 60 percent.
    • Focus Schools - Ten percent of schools with the greatest achievement gaps and secondary schools with the greatest graduation rate gaps between subgroups.
    • For all other schools, districts will identify schools experiencing achievement gaps across subgroups and will develop and implement a locally-designed intervention for that school based on input from the community.

Support great teachers and principals and ensure that all children receive the best instruction, by:

  • Helping to ensure there are great teachers and principals in every school by supporting evaluations that will inform professional development to help promote school success.
  • Recruiting and training teachers in high-need subjects like math and science.
  • Providing incentives to ensure that the most effective teachers and leaders serve the most vulnerable children.
  • Helping more schools provide a well-rounded education with time for the arts and physical activity.
  • Supporting student success by promoting safe and healthy schools.
  • Preparing more teachers to teach the diverse learners in America’s schools including students with disabilities and English learners.