Conference Report on S. 1177, Student Success Act

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 2, 2015
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: K-12 Education


Ms. ROYBAL-ALLARD. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The ESEA was a landmark civil rights bill that boosted the academic achievement of low-income and minority students, and I am pleased to see its much-needed reauthorization, following its previous reauthorization in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. I must acknowledge, however, that the ESSA is not a perfect bill. For example, this bill does not require student data to be disaggregated for Asian American and Pacific Islander subgroups, and does not require states to act if federal resources are given inequitably to schools.

However, the bill is a significant improvement over the No Child Left Behind Act and the ESEA reauthorization that passed out of the House earlier this year. For example, I was heartened to see that the bill includes academic standards that will prepare students for college and careers, requirements for states to intervene in schools in need of government support, removal of No Child Left Behind's most punitive provisions, and increased monitoring, regulation, and focus on the unique needs of English Language Learners. These provisions are critical to helping underserved students achieve academic and lifelong success.

I was also pleased to see that the ESSA includes strong language to address violence in our schools and communities. For example, it maintains dedicated funding for afterschool programs and makes violence prevention and trauma support efforts eligible for federal funds, provisions which Congresswoman KAREN BASS and I urged in a letter to education leaders last month.

For these reasons, I am proud to stand in support of this bipartisan legislation in order to improve the quality of education received by our country's most vulnerable students.

Mr. ROKITA. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to offer the following Joint Statement of Legislative Intent on the Conference Report to accompany S. 1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act, on behalf of myself and Mr. JOHN KLINE, Chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee.

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Like our colleagues, we support this conference report because we believe states and school districts should be left to set their own education priorities. The House-passed bill included strong prohibitions that clearly did just that. The conference report maintains strong, unprecedented prohibitions on the Secretary of Education. For example,

Section 1111(e) clearly states the Secretary may not add any requirements or criteria outside the scope of this act, and further says the Secretary may not ``be in excess of statutory authority given to the Secretary.'' This section goes on to lay out specific terms the Secretary cannot prescribe, sets clear limits on the guidance the Secretary may offer, and also clearly states that the Secretary is prohibited from defining terms that are inconsistent with or outside the scope of this Act.

Then there are provisions in Titles I and VIII that ensure standards and curriculum are left to the discretion of states without federal control or mandates, and the same is true for assessments.

Finally, the conference report also includes a Sense of Congress that states and local educational agencies retain the right and responsibility of determining educational curriculum, programs of instruction, and assessments.

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The conference report makes it clear the Secretary is not to put any undue limits on the ability of states to determine their accountability systems, their standards, or what tests they give their students. The clear intent and legislative language of this report devolves authority over education decisions back to the states and severely limits the Secretary's ability to interfere in any way.

Ensuring a limited role for the U.S. Secretary of Education was a critically important priority throughout the reauthorization process and this agreement meets that priority.

For example, the Secretary may not limit the ability of states to determine how the measures of student performance are weighted within state accountability systems. The Secretary also cannot prescribe school support and improvement strategies, or any aspect of a state's teacher evaluation system, or the methodology used to differentiate schools in a state.

Also, the Secretary may not create new policy by creatively defining terms in the law. Let us say definitively, as the Chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee and Subcommittee Chairman of the subcommittee of jurisdiction, this new law reins in the Secretary and ensures state and local education officials make the decisions about their schools under this new law.

Over the past few years, the Secretary has exceeded his authority by placing conditions on waivers to states and local educational agencies. The conference report prevents the Secretary from applying any new conditions on waivers or the state plans required in the law by including language that clearly states the Secretary may not add any new conditions for the approval of waivers or state plans that are outside the scope of the law. In plain English, this means if the law does not give the Secretary the authority to require something, then he may not unilaterally create an ability to do that.

We are glad to be able to support a bill that will return control to states, where it should always be, and appreciate the strong support of colleagues as well.