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McConnell: Kentucky Students, Parents and Teachers Win Under Every Child Achieves Act

There are few things more important than providing our children with a good quality education. Yet for years, many Kentucky parents have been less than satisfied with an education system in desperate need of reform.

The last major elementary and secondary education bill passed by Congress was the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. This measure laid the groundwork for important reforms. But since its passage 13 years ago, many of its original requirements have become unworkable. Today, nearly all of our public schools are considered failing.

Due to this broken law and Congressional inaction, the Obama Administration has provided waivers to states to avoid penalties under the law. However, those waivers came with additional requirements imposed by the administration. As a result, more than 40 states, including Kentucky, now have waivers from the mandates included in No Child Left Behind.

Despite the heavy hand of the administration, Kentucky has made some progress in recent years in education through the flexibility of the waivers. Kentucky was the first state to petition for some freedom from the current law’s requirements, and with that freedom came better results.

We’ve increased our graduation rate to attain the 10th-highest graduation rate of all states in the nation. Even though more than half of Kentucky’s public school students are considered low income, Kentucky is one of only two states that graduates 85 percent or more of its low-income students on time. And Kentucky has increased the number of students who enter into post-secondary education programs from about half to 68 percent in just a few years.

Still, there are limits to what Kentucky schools can do under the restrictions of current law and the interference of bureaucrats in Washington. Someone in a position to know is Kentucky’s Education Commissioner, Terry Holliday. In a letter to me, he wrote: “I can attest based on our experience that the waiver process is onerous and allows too many opportunities for federal intrusion into state responsibility for education. The long-term health of public education in the United States requires reauthorization [of a new education bill] and an end to the use of the waiver as a patch on an otherwise impractical system of requirements.”

He’s right. It’s long past time that Congress acted—which is why I fought in the Senate to pass the Every Child Achieves Act. This bill, which passed the Senate last week with overwhelming bipartisan support, would end top-down, one-size-fits-all federal mandates for education by returning decision-making power and accountability to the states, to local school boards, to teachers, and to parents rather than federal bureaucrats.

It would restore responsibility for local schools to states by providing increased flexibility to design and implement education programs and systems. It would strictly prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from dictating to states what standards to adopt, what accountability systems to implement, or how to identify schools or teachers that need improvement.

We’ve all witnessed what Kentucky has been able to do in the past few years under the waiver, which offered conditional flexibility. Just imagine what schools in our Commonwealth will be able to achieve once the federal government steps out of the way.

Throughout this debate, my guiding principle has been clear: Kentucky knows what its schools and its students need to improve more than a faraway bureaucrat in Washington does. The Every Child Achieves Act would build on that principle by allowing Kentucky to determine the best policies for Kentucky schoolchildren—because the needs of our students may not be the same as those in New York or California.

Passing the Every Child Achieves Act is good for Kentucky parents, teachers, and students. It’s also further proof that, after years of dysfunction, the new Republican majority in the Senate is back to work for the American people. Under my leadership, the Senate has now passed more than 45 bills, 25 of which have been signed into law. The Every Child Achieves Act is just the latest.

I look forward to the House and the Senate working together to craft a final education reform bill that can be added to the growing list of legislative achievements in a new Republican-led Senate, and I’m pleased that fixing our education system is the latest example of that important work.

Senator Mitch McConnell is a Republican and Senate Majority Leader. He was first elected to represent Kentucky in 1984 and reelected to a sixth six-year term last November.