Across Nebraska, August is a busy time for parents, children, teachers and communities as schools open and the new academic year begins. From those starting their very first year of school to those who will be applying to colleges this year, students fill classrooms with the anticipation of new teachers, new books, and new assignments.
Over the summer, parents have helped their children prepare for the school year by purchasing supplies and required reading. Students have worked to complete their summer reading lists for upcoming classes. Teachers have spent much of their summer planning their curricula for the year.
We owe so much to our nation's hardworking educators. Many of them become role models for our children and provide them with invaluable life lessons that go well beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Nebraska is fortunate to have strong schools with wonderful educators that equip our students with the tools they need to succeed. Before I served in the Nebraska Legislature, I was a longtime school board member and served as president of the Nebraska Association of School Boards. These positions helped shape my views on education policy as a state lawmaker and now as a United States Senator.
Nebraska -- like every state -- has unique strengths and challenges specific to its schools and students. Parents, teachers, school boards and communities best know the needs of their students. That is why I believe education decisions are best made at the state and local level, rather than by Washington bureaucrats.
As I've traveled the state this month, many Nebraskans have voiced their concerns with efforts to set national education standards through the Common Core program. This program was launched initially at the state level by governors as a voluntary effort for states to adopt a single set of educational standards for English language arts and mathematics -- essentially a costly, one-size-fits-all education agenda.
Nebraska is one of five states that have not adopted the Common Core standards. As you may know, Nebraska has developed its own education standards through the critical input of our educators. And to that end, we are always open to new ideas.
Our state education board approved a motion to hire a contractor to assess Nebraska's standards compared to those of Common Core. The report on language standards showed Nebraska's were closely aligned with, and in some cases more rigorous than, Common Core. Analysis comparing math standards will be released in September.
In an essay featured in "The State Education Standard," former state education board members Bob Evnen and Jim Scheer explained why Nebraska has not followed the lead of other states adopting Common Core standards.
In their report, Evnen and Scheer commended the original nature of the process for adopting these standards as voluntary. They rightfully noted, however, the process was "hijacked" by the administration's announcement "that anyone who wanted federal money had better adopt [the standards]."
Recently, the awarding of federal education waivers and grants has favored Common Core states, which backhandedly encourages the adoption of these multi-state education standards. That's just not fair.
Nebraska should have a level playing field on which to compete for education grants and waivers without being compelled to adopt multi-state education standards like Common Core. In April, I sent a letter to leading Senate appropriators against these unfair incentives. In the letter, we argued in favor of restoring the state's primary role in determining our education curriculum.
I don't believe the Department of Education should be indirectly forcing states to adopt their expensive federal guidelines. Instead, the federal government should promote policies that improve the ability of individual states to best meet the needs of specific communities.
As this new school year begins, our focus in Nebraska remains providing students with strong, well-rounded educations. We must ensure our public policy enhances the classroom experience and helps place students on the path for bright, successful futures.
Thank you for participating in our democratic process, and I look forward to visiting with you next week.
United States Senator