Senate Passes Major Education Reform Bill

Returns Control Over Alaska’s Schools to Alaskans

Today Senator Lisa Murkowski voted in support of the final version of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the long-overdue overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act, which became law in 2002. Today’s legislation passed by a vote of 85-12. The House of Representatives passed the bill on December 2nd by a vote of 359-64. It now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Senator Murkowski had a major hand in drafting this legislation, both as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which produced the Every Child Achieves Act (ECCA) with many provisions beneficial to Alaska, and as a member of the conference committee that negotiated the differences between ECCA and the House of Representatives’ Student Success Act. As a result, Senator Murkowski was able to give Alaska’s unique education interests and priorities a voice throughout the year-long process.

Prior to final passage of the bill, Senator Murkowski spoke on the Senate floor about what the bill will do to return control over education decisions back to the states:

“I am more than pleased to join with superintendents, principals, and school board members who celebrate that federal bureaucrats will be prohibited from dictating standards, assessments, and school accountability plans. No more federal control, no more ‘waivers with strings’, no more ‘one-size-fits-all’ education mandates that really never fit us in Alaska… The Every Student Succeeds Act guarantees that our parents, teachers, tribes, community leaders, and principals have a seat at the table to design how our schools serve our children.”

(Click image to watch video.)

ESSA gives control back to states, educators, parents, school boards, and tribes by:

  • Eliminating “Adequate Yearly Progress” – States will be in charge of determining how to identify schools that are not meeting state goals, and deciding how to intervene in those schools that need help to improve.
  • Eliminating “Highly Qualified Teacher” Standards – States will regain sole charge of determining what standards teachers must meet for certification and licensure. 
  • Eliminating Teacher and Principal Evaluations – It will be up to states and local school boards whether to evaluate teachers and principals and if so, how.
  • Maintaining Once-Yearly Assessments – Maintains current requirement for once a year statewide assessments in grades 3-8 and once in high school for English, language arts and math, and once per grade span in science to determine how well students are progressing on state standards, but will allow states to decide how much these assessments count in determining school quality.
  • Limiting Federal Control – There are multiple, substantive prohibitions that bar the Secretary of Education or any federal employee from imposing mandates, direction, or control or incentivizing, coercing, or placing conditions over Alaska’s standards, assessments, curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional content.

The final legislation also includes the provisions that Senator Murkowski included in the Senate version of the bill:

  • Reauthorization of the Alaska Native Educational Equity Program (ANEP) with changes that include limiting eligibility to Alaska Native tribes and Alaska Native organizations;
  • Reauthorization of 21st Century Community Learning Centers as a stand-alone program to give working parents the peace of mind that their children are in a safe and enriching environment after school;
  • Authorization of a program to support Native language immersion schools and programs to help revitalize Native languages;
  • Inclusion of a provision to significantly reduce burdensome paperwork for rural Alaskan school districts that apply for Impact Aid funds;
  • Requirement that states consult with tribes when formulating State Plans, and that districts engage in meaningful and timely consultation with local tribal representatives about how ESEA funds can best serve Native students;
  • Flexibility for Alaska to calculate graduation rates appropriately in very small schools;
  • Prohibiting the U.S. Department of Education from requiring any more data collection than is currently required.

Senator Murkowski also worked with her colleagues to include in the Every Student Succeeds Act:

  • Reauthorization of Ready to Learn Television as a stand-alone program.
  • Continued support for arts, civics, and geography education.

Related Issues: Education