Mr. President, I rise today in support of the Every Student Succeeds Act-the bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
We have only one goal in mind: to give all our children the best possible education. The challenge has been to figure out the right role for the federal government to do that.
This bill, which will replace No Child Left Behind, moves away from rigid standardized tests and respects the vital work that our teachers do every day. I strongly support those changes. However, I voted against this bill when it was first approved by the Senate a few months ago because I felt that it lacked even the minimum safeguards necessary to ensure that states would use federal funds effectively to support teachers and students. And I was deeply concerned that without stronger accountability, billions of dollars in taxpayer money would not actually reach those schools and students who needed them the most.
Unlike the bill initially approved by the Senate, the proposal before us today has significantly enhanced those safeguards. I argued that it was essential that billions of dollars a year of federal funding must be accompanied by some minimum expectations for what states are going to do with that money. One of those expectations must be that states target their efforts toward schools that are most in need of improvement and resources.
And that is why I'm glad this final bill includes of an amendment that I offered with Senator Cory Booker to ensure that states address the 1,200 high schools in the United States where fewer than two-thirds of students graduate every year.
You know, when one third of a high school's students don't graduate, we know we have a crisis on our hands. We can't just turn our backs. This provision will ensure that states can't ignore those kids, and it will ensure additional federal resources for those schools that clearly need it the most.
This commonsense accountability provision had deep support across the board. It was supported by the Obama Administration, the civil rights community, the Chamber of Commerce, and the NEA. It wasn't in the bill I voted against a few months ago - but I'm glad to see it in the final bill before us today, because helping schools with chronic dropout rates cannot be optional.
This bill also ensures that states cannot ignore any group of students who are consistently falling behind their peers. Let's face it: historically, states haven't stood up for their most vulnerable kids-and this bill makes certain that those kids will not be ignored again.
That is why we have a federal education law in the first place, to ensure that when the federal government gives money to buy a good education for kids, that states have to use that money to support all of our kids-especially kids who need those resources the most. Senator Murphy and I offered amendments to achieve this goal when this bill came before the Senate. They weren't included back then, but I'm glad to see that the final bill ensures that if states want federal dollars, they cannot turn their backs on vulnerable students.
This has been a really challenging process, but Senator Murray and Senator Alexander kept the door open for improvements, and I'm grateful for that. Many allies stood together to ensure that federal dollars will actually be used to improve both schools and educational opportunities for children living in poverty, children of color, children with disabilities, and other groups of kids who had been underserved, mistreated, or systematically denied even the most basic opportunities to get a good education.
And one final note: States and communities cannot address persistent achievement gaps if they don't have good data.
With this bill, parents, researchers and educators across the country will, for the first time, be able to analyze on the performance of African-American boys, or Hispanic girls, or low-income children with disabilities.
The ability to analyze the interaction of race and gender, or disabilities and income, will help us better understand how our schools are serving students and identify student groups that need more help. I'm very grateful to my cosponsor, Senator Cory Gardner, in helping make sure that this final bill includes this bipartisan data transparency amendment we offered to achieve this goal.
When President Johnson first signed ESEA back in 1965, it was a landmark Civil Rights law. At the time, he said, "I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty-the only valid passport... I believe deeply no law I have signed or will ever sign means more to the future of America."
Today, the majority of our children in public school live in poverty. The majority-think about that. This law is more important today than it has ever been. I'm voting for this bill today because I believe we have been successful in ensuring that it contains a minimum set of safeguards to protect our most vulnerable kids. I still have real concerns about what the states will do with the new flexibility it provides, and many of us will be watching closely to see if the states deliver for our kids.
I'm committed to keep fighting for our nation's public schools, and that includes fighting for more federal investments. I hope that this legislation truly lives up to the promises made half a century ago to support public education fully and fairly enough to create real opportunities for all of our children.
But if the changes in this law don't move us closer to providing a world-class education for every single one of our children, then we'll be right back here to fix it again. We owe it to our students, we owe it to our teachers, we owe it to our history, and we owe it to our future to get this right.