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Kline Statement: Hearing on "Next Steps for K-12 Education: Upholding the Letter and Intent of the Every Student Succeeds Act"

Replacing No Child Left Behind was a significant achievement that was desperately needed and long overdue. The law represented the largest expansion of federal control over K-12 schools, and it was based on the flawed premise that Washington knows best what students need in the classroom. The federal government imposed rigid rules and punitive actions on states and schools in areas vital to a child’s education, like which teachers to hire and fire, how to gauge school performance, and how to fix underperforming schools.

It didn’t take long before state and local leaders were raising concerns that this top-down approach wouldn’t work. Their concerns were affirmed year after year as we experienced little – if any – improvement in graduation rates, proficiency in reading and math, and the achievement gap separating poor and minority students from their peers. Frustration among parents and teachers went up, while student achievement remained flat. Despite the good intentions behind the law, millions of children were left behind.

To make matters worse, the administration spent years pushing a convoluted waiver scheme, which doubled-down on the false hope that Washington could fix the problems in our schools. States and schools were subjected to even more federal requirements in areas like standards and teacher evaluations. They were forced to choose between onerous requirements prescribed in federal law and onerous requirements prescribed by the secretary of education.

If we learned anything throughout process to replace No Child Left Behind, it’s that the American people are tired of Washington micromanaging their classrooms. They are desperate for a different approach to K-12 education, one that will significantly reduce the federal role and restore state and local control. That is precisely the approach taken by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Under the new law, authority over accountability, teacher quality, and school improvement is restored to state and local leaders. The law also brings new transparency and accountability to the department’s rulemaking process, ends the era of federally-mandated high-stakes testing, repeals dozens of ineffective programs, and sets the department on the path to becoming smaller, not bigger. Furthermore, due to the administration’s actions in recent years and the public outcry that ensued, the Every Student Succeeds Act includes unprecedented restrictions on the authority of the secretary of education, ending the days when one individual imposed his or her own agenda on our classrooms.   

The Wall Street Journal described the new law as the “largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.” A letter written by a coalition of organizations representing governors, state lawmakers, teachers, parents, principals, and superintendents says, “[The Every Student Succeeds Act] is clear: Education decision-making now rests with states and districts, and the federal role is to support and inform those decisions.” They also urge the Department of Education to “honor congressional intent,” which brings us to the heart of today’s hearing.

Despite our success replacing No Child Left Behind, the real work to improve K-12 education is just beginning. The focus now shifts to leaders in state capitals and local communities who will use the tools and authority in the new law to build a better education for their children. And if they are going to succeed, they will need a Department of Education that behaves like a partner – not dictator.

I’ve described countless times the shortfalls of No Child Left Behind. While it may seem unnecessary at a hearing on the future of K-12 education, we need to remember where we have been as we look to where we want to go. Congress did not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, and we certainly did not want a Department of Education that would continue to substitute its will for the will of Congress and the American people. Quite the opposite, we wanted new policies that would empower parents, teachers, and state and local education leaders. Congress promised to reduce the federal role and restore local control, and we intend to keep our promise.

That’s why we are here today. We want to learn what actions the department intends to take to implement the law and to help ensure the department acts in a manner that strictly adheres to the letter and intent of the law. Dr. King, this committee stands ready to assist you in that effort. The reforms you are now implementing were the result of bipartisan consensus, and we will remain actively engaged as the department moves forward. There is a lot of work to do, especially in every state and school district across the country. The department must get this right so every child can receive the excellent education they deserve.