U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) opposed ESSA on the Senate floor.
U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) opposed ESSA on the Senate floor.
U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) opposed ESSA on the Senate floor.

(Washington, DC) Less than one week after the U.S. House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the measure cleared the U.S. Senate on a 85 to 12 vote Wednesday morning. The bill reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was first passed in 1965 and was last reauthorized in 2002 when the No Child Left Behind Act became law and whose authorization expired seven years ago.

ESSA repealed the unpopular adequate yearly progress measure introduced under No Child Left Behind and replaces it with a statewide accountability system.  Advocates say this provides more flexibility to states. Opponents to the bill note still erodes state authority in education as the state accountability plan has to be consistent with the federal bill.

Advocates note the bill lessens the amount of testing required by the states, but a testing mandate still exist. Supporters of the bill say ESSA reclaims state control over standards. Opponents point out bill language appears to require standards that align with career and technical education standards, indicating that the standards must align to the federally approved Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

They also say the bill incentivizes retention of the Common Core State Standards. As a requirement of the Act, states must “demonstrate” to the U.S. Secretary of Education that they have adopted standards that are aligned to the same definition of “college and career” standards used to force states into adopting Common Core under NCLB waivers.

Opponents also note that student data privacy was not addressed in the bill, and the parental opt-out language in the original House version of the bill was removed.

The bill is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was one of the chief sponsors of the bill along with U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).  Alexander hailed the bill as a bipartisan compromise.

“The huge bipartisan vote in both the Senate and the House reverses the trend toward a national school board and makes clear that, in the future, the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability will be through states, communities and classrooms and not Washington, D.C.  Restoring responsibility to states and teachers will, I believe, inaugurate a new era of innovation and excellence in student achievement. The real winners in this remarkable consensus will be 50 million children in 100,000 public schools,” Alexander said.

“I am thrilled that through our bipartisan work, Congress has finally come together to fix No Child Left Behind in a way that works for students, parents, teachers, and communities in my home state of Washington and across the country. This legislation includes strong federal guardrails to ensure all students have access to a quality education, reduces reliance on high-stakes testing, makes strong investments to improve and expand access to preschool for our youngest learners, and so much more. I’m looking forward to President Obama signing our bipartisan bill into law to help more students get the chance to learn, grow, and thrive in the classroom and beyond.” Murray added.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was one of the 12 senators who voted against cloture on Tuesday afternoon, but was not present for the final vote, opposed the bill.

“The Every Student Succeeds Act unfortunately continues to propagate the large and ever-growing role of the federal government in our education system—the same federal government that sold us failed top-down standards like Common Core. We should be empowering parents and local school districts instead of perpetuating the same tired approach that continues to fail our nation’s children. In many ways, the conference report was worse than the original Senate bill—removing the few good provisions from the House bill that would have allowed some Title I portability for low-income students as well as a parental opt-out from onerous federal accountability standards. The American people expect the Republican majority to do better. And our children deserve better, which is why I cannot support this bill,” Cruz said in a released statement.

[Tweet “.@tedcruz: Our children deserve better, which is why I cannot support this bill. #StopESEA “]

U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) also voted against the bill and was disappointed by the absence of school choice measures.

“While the Every Student Succeeds Act is a good step forward, it does not include strong enough school choice provisions to provide our nation’s children with true access to the best education possible. Too many children, especially those living in poverty, continued to be denied access to a quality education simply because of their zip code and socioeconomic status. This cannot continue. By embracing school choice and fundamentally reforming education, we can reduce poverty, strengthen communities and unleash our students’ true potential,” Scott said in a released statement.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) said the bill didn’t go far enough in restoring local control.

“I opposed passage of No Child Left Behind because I believe excessive federal intervention in education is not in the best interest of Kansas students and schools. The Every Student Succeeds Act does not go far enough in reducing the counterproductive federal mandates currently dictating K-12 education, including NCLB’s torrent of annual testing mandates. Federally mandated testing requirements have a significant impact on local school decision making. While S. 1177 is an improvement from NCLB, it still gives Washington bureaucrats too much say in curriculum development, school testing and assessment decisions – functions best handled by states and local school districts,” Moran said in a released statement.

[Tweet “.@JerryMoran: ESEA reauthorization still gives “Washington bureaucrats too much say” in K-12 education. #StopESEA”]

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) joined U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in support of the bill.

“As a mother and grandmother, I believe education should be handled at the state and local level, by Iowans, not Washington bureaucrats,” Ernst said in a released statement. “The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act rolls back many of the failed policies established under No Child Left Behind. This legislation ends the Common Core mandate and other federally prescribed academic standards imposed on our states. In addition, ESSA moves our education system away from a Washington top down, one size fits all system based on test results. These long overdue reforms give our individual states greater flexibility to design and implement their education and accountability standards as they see fit.”

“I believe this is a positive step forward to ensure our students have access to quality education, and empower our parents, teachers, local school boards, and states to make the best decision for their own students,” Ernst added.

[Tweet “.@SenJoniErnst & @ChuckGrassley voted in favor of the ESEA reauthorization #StopESEA “]

U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) spoke against the bill on the U.S. Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon.

“Our 1960s-era, top-down model of elementary and secondary schooling has endured, essentially unchallenged, for so many decades that the education establishment has come to take it for granted. For many policymakers and education officials in Washington and in state capitals around the country, the status quo isn’t just seen as the best way – but as the only way – to design K-12 education policy today,” Lee said during his speech.

[Tweet “.@SenMikeLee: “the status quote isn’t just seen as the best way, but the only way.” #StopESEA]

“The only reform proposals that are given the time of day are those that seek to standardize America’s classrooms, enforce uniformity across school districts, and systematize the way that teachers teach and the way that students learn,” Lee later added.”

U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Michael Crapo (R-ID), Steve Daines (R-MT), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rand Paul (R-KY), James Risch (R-ID), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and David Vitter (R-LA) voted against cloture and the bill’s final passage. Cruz voted against cloture, and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) for in favor of cloture, but against final passage.

U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was absent for the cloture vote, but voted for the bill’s final passage. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was absent for both the cloture vote and the final vote.

[Tweet “.@MarcoRubio missed both the cloture vote and ESEA’s final vote. #StopESEA #iacaucus”]

Grassroots activists and education policy experts disagreed with the positive assessment of this legislation.

“In a rush to please the Obama Administration, Congress has foolishly passed this 1065-page bill only one week after it was released. Their ignorance of the bill’s content allowed special interests and the federal government to come out the winners, and parents and students will find themselves less empowered over their child’s education. As the bill is implemented by the United States Department of Education, members of Congress will understand that is was propaganda, not facts, that misled them into voting for ESSA. What a shame,” Erin Tuttle, co-founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core, told Caffeinated Thoughts.

[Tweet “Tuttle: Propaganda, not facts, misled (Congress) into voting for ESSA #StopESEA”]

Joy Pullmann, an education research fellow at the Heartland Institute, said the bill’s passage was not a surprise and ultimately Americans are getting the kind of government voters elect.

“It is Congress as usual to pass massive bills lawmakers have not read and even their staffs and legal analysts can hardly have a decent idea of what is inside. We have this kind of government because Americans vote in this kind of government, and Americans do so in part because we are so poorly educated and raised, and we are in part that way because government eviscerates the ecosystem children need to thrive. We’re in a vicious cycle that is going to take herculean efforts and not a few miracles to reverse,” Pullmann told Caffeinated Thoughts.

She said there is hard work ahead to root out a federal role in education.

And it is not at all prudent to march about demanding Congress do things that we have not politically yet made possible for them, such as eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, no matter how wonderful we believe the results would be. The truth is that big government eviscerates the intermediate institutions that make big government not necessary, so we both have to push for smaller government while doing the on the ground infrastructure work that makes smaller government possible,” Pullmann added. “On the other hand, we cannot fall into despair. Despair also ensures defeat. What those of us who care about empowering families instead of bureaucrats must do is prepare for many decades of educating our fellow Americans because our federally hamstrung local schools simply cannot.”

[Tweet “.@JoyPullmann: We can not fall into despair. Despair also ensures defeat. #StopESEA”]

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