WASHINGTON, D.C. | June 23, 2016
Welcome back, Secretary King, and thank you for joining us. When we last met, the process for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act was just getting underway. We had a healthy discussion about the bipartisan reforms Congress passed and the president signed into law. Those reforms are designed to restore state and local control over K-12 schools.
That’s not just my own personal view. It’s the view held by governors, state lawmakers, teachers, parents, principals, and superintendents who recently wrote that, “[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.” It’s also the view of most honest observers. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized, the law represents the “largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.”
The reason for this hearing and our continued oversight is to ensure the letter and intent of the law are followed. A critical part of our effort is holding your agency accountable, Mr. Secretary, for the steps that are taken to implement the law. When you were with us in February, you said, “You can trust that we will abide by the letter of the law as we move forward …”
That is a strong statement, and it is one of several commitments you’ve made that the department would act responsibly. But actions speak louder than words. In recent months, we have seen troubling signs of the department pulling the country in a different direction than the one Congress provided in the law.
The first troubling sign is the rulemaking process itself. There are a number of concerns about the integrity of the negotiated rulemaking committee, including the makeup of the panel, the lack of rural representation, and the accuracy of statements made by department staff. The point of the negotiated rulemaking process is to build consensus among those directly affected by the law, yet it seems the department decided to stack the deck to achieve its own preferred outcomes.
The second troubling sign surrounds the long-standing policy that federal funds are to supplement, not supplant, state and local resources. Prior to the Every Student Succeeds Act, this rule was applied differently depending on how many low-income students a school served; some schools faced more onerous requirements than others. Last year, Congress decided the rule would be enforced equally across all schools. Now, school districts must simply show that funds are distributed fairly without prescribing a specific approach or outcome. The law explicitly prohibits the secretary from interfering, yet that is precisely what your proposal would do.
What the department is proposing would be both illegal and harmful to students and communities. It would impose a significant financial burden on states and force countless public school districts to change how they hire and pay their teachers. This regulatory effort is trying to achieve an end Congress deliberately rejected and that the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service warns goes beyond “a plain language reading of the statute.” No doubt you have good intentions, Mr. Secretary, but you do not have the legal authority to do this. I strongly urge you to abandon this flawed scheme.
The third troubling sign is the department’s accountability proposal. Let me note that there are policies in this proposal we are pleased to see, such as how states set long-term goals and measure interim progress. But in a number of ways, we also see the department’s bad habit for making decisions that must be left to states.
This is especially troubling given the law’s explicit prohibitions against federal interference, including how states compare school performance and identify schools for support. For years, states grappled with a rigid accountability system imposed by Washington. The Every Student Succeeds Act turns the page on that failed approach and restores these decisions back to state and local leaders. I urge you, Mr. Secretary, to adopt a final proposal that fully reflects the letter and spirit of the law.
We are raising these concerns because it’s vitally important for the laws written by Congress to be faithfully executed. And just as importantly, we are raising these concerns because we want to ensure every child has the best chance to receive a quality education. We cannot go back to the days when the federal government dictated national education policy—it didn’t work then and won’t work now.
If the department refuses to follow the letter and intent of the law, you will prevent state leaders, like Dr. Pruitt from Kentucky, from doing what’s right for their school districts. You will deny superintendents, like Dr. Schuler of Arlington Heights, Illinois, the ability to manage schools in a way that meets the needs of their local communities. And you will make it harder for teachers, like Cassie Harrelson from Aurora, Colorado, to serve the best interests of the students in their classrooms.
Later, we will hear from these individuals because they represent the people we want to empower. Every child in every school deserves an excellent education, and the only way to achieve that goal is to restore state and local control. That’s what the Every Student Succeeds Act is intended to do, and we will use every tool at our disposal to ensure the letter and intent of the law are followed.