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Harkin Statement at the HELP Committee Hearing, "No Child Left Behind: Early Lessons from State Flexibility Waivers"

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“I welcome everyone to our first education hearing of the new Congress.  Today’s hearing will focus on No Child Left Behind flexibility waivers to the states.

“Nearly half a century ago, the United States Congress passed the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. 

“At that time, one-fifth of American families had an annual income too small to support their basic needs.  Poverty was a major issue of national concern, and lack of education contributed directly to families living in poverty.   President Johnson issued a call for action challenging the 88th Congress to be remembered as 'the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined.'

“The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was one of the great accomplishments of that Congress.  Its aim was to address the needs of vulnerable students—needs that were not being met by States.  It was designed to provide schools and communities additional resources specifically targeted to help lift children out of poverty by ensuring equal access to quality education for all.  The Federal government stepped in because many States could not or would not provide for their most vulnerable children.

“Since being signed into law in 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been reauthorized seven times.  Each reauthorization has sought to enhance the law’s effectiveness while staying true to its original mission: to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged students. 

“The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was last reauthorized in 2001, during the administration of President George W. Bush.  That law, the No Child Left Behind Act, aimed to increase the transparency of schools’ effectiveness—or lack of effectiveness—in meeting the needs of students who were struggling: students living in poverty, students who are English learners, and students who have disabilities.  The law’s goal was to give families and the general public the data they needed to assess whether students in a given school were being taught the reading and math skills they needed to be successful.  Only the Federal government could require that this data be tracked for all students across the country. 

“In October 2011, this Committee passed a bipartisan reauthorization of ESEA preserving the reporting and transparency components of No Child Left Behind and continuing to emphasize strategies to close the achievement gaps for disadvantaged students.  With robust participation by Ranking Member Alexander and many other Committee members present today, we crafted a comprehensive bill that would support teachers and school leaders as they work to improve the achievement of all students.

“Unfortunately, we could not move that bill beyond this Committee.  However, in this new Congress, we are redoubling out efforts to reauthorize ESEA and to address more effectively the needs of disadvantaged students. 

“In the absence of a reauthorized law, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have offered waivers to No Child Left Behind.  Those waivers aim to address the needs of States and local school districts to improve instruction and provide flexibility to address the needs of students and the educators serving them. 

“As of today, 34 States and the District of Columbia have received approval of their waiver requests.  These States are five months into implementing their waiver plans.     

“Meanwhile, the remaining 16 states have either submitted a waiver request, have not submitted a request, or have been told their waiver has not been approved.

“This Committee—and the public—needs to better understand how the waivers are being implemented and what impact they are having on students.  We also need to better understand the consequences for States that have not received a waiver.  The implementation of waivers has relieved States from requirements such as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and also from restrictions on how Title I funds are used.  As the Department of Education continues to work with the States to implement waivers, we need to:

  • understand the status and scope of state waiver plans being implemented across the country;
  • consider the conditions and activities of states that do not have approved waivers;
  • ensure that the policies and programs we support are effective in meeting the needs of our most vulnerable students.

“While almost 50 years have passed since the initial passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, many of the conditions that led to its passage have not changed dramatically.  In 2012, the child poverty rate was 20.5 percent, over six million public school students were students with disabilities, and more than five million public school students across the country were English learners.  Many of the challenges to equal education that President Johnson identified nearly half a century ago stubbornly persist.  We must continue to work to mitigate these obstacles and support the success of all students, especially those who are disadvantaged.

“Today we will hear from two panels.  All witnesses will share their thoughts on the Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind waivers and how those waivers are impacting our most disadvantaged students

“We begin with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who will give us an update on the implementation of NCLB waivers.  On our second panel, we will hear from two State Chief school officers, Commissioner Holliday from Kentucky and Commissioner King from New York.  We also will hear from Andy Smarick and Kati Haycock, advocates and analysts who can speak to the particular needs of disadvantaged students.

“I thank all of our witnesses for joining us today.  Your testimony will provide valuable insights as the Committee works to promote meaningful, productive, and equitable education policies for all.

“I want to thank Senator Alexander and his staff for their bipartisan collaboration in arranging today’s hearing.”