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Public Statements

No Child Left Behind

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise today to speak briefly about two pieces of legislation that I have introduced. They are the Educational Accountability and State Flexibility Act and the Early Intervention for Graduation Success Act. I intend to speak with my colleagues about these bills in the coming days and weeks, but I would like to take a moment now to provide an overview of my thoughts.

We have all heard from our constituents--teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, and parents--about the No Child Left Behind Act. Clearly, the law has some good things. Americans deserve accountability for how their Federal tax dollars are spent, even when they are spent in their local schools. Parents want to know their local schools can help prepare their children for the future. But No Child Left Behind went too far. My bill, the Educational Accountability and State Flexibility Act, seeks to maintain reasonable accountability to taxpayers and parents while providing greater flexibility to States and schools to meet our children's needs and local communities' individual circumstances.

As we know, the Senate HELP Committee has again begun to address the need to reform No Child Left Behind. A markup of the Strengthening America's Schools Act began yesterday, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. I am hopeful the committee can come together to reduce, not expand, the Federal government's role in our local schools. I know several of my colleagues share that hope, including Senator Alexander, who offered a substitute amendment to reduce the Federal mandates in the Strengthening America's Schools Act. I voted for that amendment and others like it. Since the Alexander amendment and several similar amendments failed, I hope my colleagues will review my Educational Accountability and School Flexibility Act. It is intended to offer some ideas for continuing the conversation.

My bill would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act--also known as No Child Left Behind--to do the following: No. 1: Eliminate adequate yearly progress--AYP; No. 2: Allow States to stick with an approved waiver plan if that is their choice; No. 3: Require States, not the Federal government, to determine each school's level of success in helping kids succeed based on broad, flexible parameters, publish the results, reward what schools are doing right, and help the schools that need help; No. 4: Require States to diagnose why a school is not improving to help fix what is wrong in a way that will work for that school and community--not implement a school turnaround model mandated by the Federal government; No. 6: Prohibit the Secretary from prioritizing or mandating any school turnaround strategy; No. 7: Prohibit the Secretary of Education from approving or disapproving a State's decisions about standards, tests, and accountability while making sure the public can access experts' opinions on the plans; No. 8: Eliminate the Federal ``highly qualified teacher'' requirements and let States decide what makes teachers highly effective; No. 9: Continue to ask the low-performing schools to tutor students who are not succeeding in schools; No. 10: Continue to allow public school choice as long as a higher performing public school is available and kids would not have to ride long hours on dangerous roads to get there; and No. 11: Respect the voice and expertise of our Nation's indigenous first peoples regarding what helps Native children succeed in school.

I have also reintroduced my Early Intervention for Graduation Success Act with a few changes from last Congress. I hope my colleagues will take some time to review this legislation.

This legislation would, if enacted, amend the current school dropout prevention provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It would focus attention on identifying and helping students who are at risk to not graduate from high school as early as prekindergarten and through elementary and middle school.

Some may ask, Why are you concentrating on toddlers and elementary school children when you are trying to solve the high school dropout crisis facing our Nation? Why not focus attention and our Nation's scarce resources on high school students, or even middle school students?

The reason is simple. Early on is when children's troubles in school begin, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. High school and middle school students do not just wake up one day and say, I think I will drop out of school today. Twenty-five years of research tells us that dropping out is a long process of frustration, alienation, and even boredom--it is not a sudden decision. We know that students with disabilities, minority and poor children, and students whose home lives are, in all sorts of ways, difficult have lower graduation rates than their peers. The challenges children face today are all too prevalent, and we know the factors that make it harder for them to succeed in school. We know this.

It only makes sense, then, that we rework the program intended to help schools increase their graduation rates so that it actually helps schools help children when we can make the most difference. We need to act before these children have fought for years just to stay afloat, and before they are too tired, frustrated, alienated, and angry to fight anymore.

But I have also heard from some who asked that my legislation include a stronger focus on secondary schools, knowing that today we have middle and high schools that are struggling to keep their students in school and on a path to success. So I have done that.

I have also heard from my State. They shared concerns with me that the cost to create a database combining data from multiple State agencies that have information that will inform schools as to students' risk factors for dropping out--participation in public assistance programs, being homeless or a foster child, having an incarcerated parent, etc.--would be too high. So, knowing that it still makes sense to help our educators better identify students who are at risk, I have amended my bill to just ask the State to help schools access this information while following FERPA and HIPAA rules for privacy of that data.

We all want our schools to be successful. We all want our children to be successful. I am hopeful my colleagues will take a good look at both of these bills, and that they will help to move the conversation forward about how we can help reach our goals.

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