As a former teacher, I am committed to ensuring that our nation’s children are provided with the best education possible.  I strongly believe that all children have a right to study in safe and productive learning environments and that America has a responsibility to provide exemplary education across the board.  We must make significant investments in education to equip current and future generations of children with the knowledge and skills they need to compete and succeed in the global economy.  Parents should be able to send their children to school confident that they will receive an excellent learning experience.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the primary legislative vehicle that Congress uses to set the federal government’s K-12 education policy.  Updating ESEA has long been overdue as it has not been reauthorized since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was signed into law in 2002.

The NCLB mandated a “one size fits all” approach to increasing academic achievement of students throughout the country. Instead of empowering schools in Alaska, NCLB standards have burdened them. Alaska is not alone in its struggle to meet unique challenges and educate its children.  In fact, each state has geographic, economic, or cultural barriers that have prevented its schools from complying with NCLB requirements.

Most agreed that the NCLB needed to be replaced with education policies that give individual states, school districts, and parents more decision making. Therefore, on December 3, 2015, the House passed S. 1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This bipartisan, bicameral legislation replaces the outdated, unreasonable, and unworkable federal standards included in the NCLB law.

Importantly, the ESSA stops the federal government’s promotion of Common Core and protects the rights of states and school districts to develop or change their own standards as they see fit. The bicameral bill:

  • Prohibits any agent of the federal government — including the Secretary of Education — from incentivizing, forcing, or coercing states into adopting Common Core, or interfering with a state’s standards or assessments.
  • Rejects policies and programs the secretary has used to coerce states to adopt Common Core, including waivers of K-12 education law with strings attached and the Race to the Top program.
  • Prevents the secretary from imposing additional burdens on states and school districts through the regulatory process in areas of standards, assessments, and state accountability plans.
  • Eliminate Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) standards for states, which have proved to be burdensome one-size-fits-all requirements rather than catalysts for states to improve student performance.  S.1177 replaces AYP with state-determined accountability systems, thereby returning authority for measuring student performance to states and school districts.
  • End federally mandated interventions currently required of “poor performing” schools, giving states and districts maximum flexibility to develop appropriate school improvement strategies and rewards for their schools.

Recognizing that we cannot turn our backs on America’s indigenous peoples, this K-12 education law included important language crafted by Senator Murkowski and myself to improve the American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian education equity programs. Significant disparities continue to exist between the academic achievement of Native students and their non-Native peers, and Native communities face unique and burdensome educational obstacles.  For these reasons, I have proudly fought to protect dedicated funding streams for culturally-based tribal education programs.

The ESSA would:

  • Authorize nearly $32 million annually for the Alaska Native Education Program (ANEP);
  • Reform grantee requirements for ANEP eligibility to ensure that Alaska Native Organizations are always lead recipients and have the primary responsibility for the development and implementation of funded programs.

Ensuring that our children receive a quality education is one of the most crucial issues facing Alaska and the United States.  I will continue to support important programs that benefit young Alaskans at every stage of their educational journey, from pre-Kindergarten through college.