Student Success Act Fails Students

Floor Speech

Date: July 8, 2015
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: K-12 Education


Ms. SEWELL of Alabama. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to express my strong opposition to H.R. 5, the so-called Student Success Act. I am deeply disappointed in the majority for bringing such an economically careless and socially egregious bill to the floor today.

If passed, H.R. 5 would take more than $7 million from the highest need schools in my home State of Alabama. It is really an abomination that this body would do this to our constituents and do this to our students.

H.R. 5 abandons the Federal Government's historic role in elementary and secondary education. Furthermore, this bill neglects our sacred responsibility to ensure that all children, irrespective of race, class, disability, or socioeconomic class, are given the opportunity to attain a high quality education.

Each of us in this body has the opportunity to send our own children to the finest K-12 institutions in this country, but our privilege isn't universal, and we shouldn't legislate as if it is.

In the Seventh Congressional District of Alabama, that privilege, the ability to send our children to the private schools or public schools of choice, is nearly nonexistent.

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More than 70 percent of the public school students in my district receive free or reduced lunch, and they live in families that live below the poverty line. And of the 26 school districts that serve my constituents, only two of them have a poverty rate that is less than 56 percent.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was first written in recognition of the impact that concentrated poverty has on a school system's ability to adequately support the educational programs needed to serve vulnerable communities.

But H.R. 5 would strip the ESEA of the protections for these students by diverting title I funds. This approach is backwards, and our children deserve better. If I were grading this bill, I would definitely give it an F.

As a proud product of Selma High School, this is deeply personal to me. Today more than 90 percent of the Selma High School students in my district, from my old high school, receive free and reduced lunch. Under H.R. 5, this school would lose nearly 20 percent of its Federal funding.

The greatest opportunity that we can give any child is a quality education. This is why I cannot support this bill, which diverts title I funds from 92 percent of the schools in my district. This would further tilt the playing field against poor kids.

These children belong to all of us. Unfortunately, this bill is proof that somewhere along the line we have abandoned the most sacred American principle, that all children--I mean all children--are our children.

We cannot deny that a rising tide lifts all boats. The economic and social costs of refusing to accept these facts are steep.

When President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1964, he stated, ``As President of the United States, I believe deeply no law I have signed or will ever sign means more to the future of America than this bill.'' President Johnson was right then, and he is right now.

To promote our educational progress, we must replace No Child Left Behind with a strong bipartisan bill, one that advances what works and improves upon what does not. Unfortunately, this bill does neither.

I urge this body to oppose this reckless bill, H.R. 5. Our children deserve better. Our constituents deserve better. This Nation deserves better.