U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons (both D-Del.), joined eight other moderate Democratic senators on a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today saying that while they'd prefer it if Congress moved quickly to reform and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, they would support the Department of Education's efforts to provide states with immediate relief through waivers offered in exchange for compliance with needed reforms.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is commonly known as No Child Left Behind.
"Like you, we are committed to working to reauthorize No Child Left Behind," the letter states. "However, we also recognize that students are headed back to school under the current law, which is simply not working for too many students."
"While it remains our first choice that Congress move quickly to reauthorize this critical piece of legislation, we also know that our states are in need of relief now, and our kids can't afford to wait. Therefore, in the absence of a reauthorization bill, we support your recent announcement that you will use your authority under the law to provide much needed relief to states in the form of an ESEA flexibility package in exchange for needed reforms."
The text of the letter follows:
September 9, 2011
The Honorable Arne Duncan
United States Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C, 20202
Dear Secretary Duncan:
As another school year begins, we know that we do not have to remind you that there is no other issue more connected to the long-term prosperity of our nation than ensuring that all students receive a high-quality education. Like you, we are committed to working to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. However, we also recognize that students are headed back to school under the current law, which is simply not working for too many students.
While it remains our first choice that Congress move quickly to reauthorize this critical piece of legislation, we also know that our states are in need of relief now, and our kids can't afford to wait. Therefore, in the absence of a reauthorization bill, we support your recent announcement that you will use your authority under the law to provide much needed relief to states in the form of an ESEA flexibility package in exchange for needed reforms.
In March of this year, we released a statement of principles that outlined principles for reauthorization and specific policies we feel will drive us towards the outcomes that our students need to remain competitive in a global economy. As you move forward to provide states with relief from No Child Left Behind, we hope you will keep these principles and policies in mind.
This statement included four critical principles we believe are essential to fixing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. They are as follows:
Increase Local Flexibility: NCLB created incentives for states to lower their standards, and gave states, school districts and schools little flexibility in deciding how to meet those standards. We should reverse that paradigm through reauthorization: supporting state efforts to set clear, high, common standards for students to be college-and career-ready, but allowing much greater flexibility at the state and local level to determine the best way to meet those standards.
In addition, we need to remove the administrative burden on districts and provide flexibility to people at the school level to respond to the needs of students in a comprehensive and locally driven way. We support consolidating narrowly tailored programs in order to cut red tape and allow the parents and teachers closest to kids to determine their needs, while increasing the resources available to support the comprehensive needs of those children.
Spur Innovation: A major priority for reauthorization is to create opportunities for states, districts and schools that want to push beyond the status quo through innovative and promising new approaches. In addition, where there are examples of success, it is important that we help bring those to scale. That is something we have not done well in our education system, and our students have paid the price.
Reward Success: Under NCLB, many schools and teachers made incredible gains with their students, but went without recognition for their accomplishments, because the law did not value growth. If we are going to move the system forward, it is critical that we align the incentives in the system, and reward and learn from the places and the people that are doing outstanding work.
Ensure Transparency and Equity: Title I, Part A, the largest program in ESEA provides grants to districts to enhance the educational experience of children living in concentrated poverty. When these funds arrive at a school serving such children, they should represent additional resources over and above a school's allocation of state and local funds. Districts should be required to report non-federal expenditures transparently, to devise plans for distributing these resources equitably, and to implement these plans efficiently.
We understand that your flexibility package is not in place of comprehensive reform, but as we in Congress work towards that goal, we ask you keep these principles at the forefront of your plans.
KAY R. HAGAN
MICHAEL F. BENNET
JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN
MARY L. LANDRIEU
THOMAS R. CARPER
CHRISTOPHER A. COONS