Schools, districts and the state will need to step up and do everything they can to get this education bill right.
I WAS proud to stand with Democrats and Republicans in the White House last week and represent Washington state students and families as President Obama signed an education bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), into law.
The broken No Child Left Behind law is finally gone. Our new law is a huge step forward for students and schools. But the work hasn’t ended — far from it.
As ESSA gets implemented, I am going to be very focused on making sure it works as well as possible. Because Washington state has seen firsthand what can happen when an education law isn’t working.
For years, I’ve heard from parents, teachers and so many others about the problems with No Child Left Behind. To make matters worse, Washington state lost its waiver from the law’s burdensome requirements, which meant that 88 percent of the schools in the state were labeled “failing” in 2014, and the state lost flexibility over how to spend some of its federal funding.
So when I became the top Democrat on the Senate Education Committee this year, I brought the stories and priorities from our state with me to Congress, and I wasn’t going to stop working until this broken law was fixed.
It wasn’t easy in today’s gridlocked Congress, but thankfully there were Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate who were willing to work with me to get this done. It took nearly a year of negotiations, but we finally arrived at a bill that includes strong federal guardrails to make sure all students have access to a quality education, reduces high-stakes testing, focuses on a well-rounded education, increases flexibility, and does away with the need for state waivers that have caused so much uncertainty for states like Washington.
I am especially proud that one of my top priorities, expanding access to preschool for more of our youngest learners, was included in the new law. As a former preschool teacher, I know that helping more kids start kindergarten on a strong footing is one of the smartest investments our country can make. I fought hard to include investments in preschool, and ESSA marks the first time that the nation’s primary education law includes dedicated funding to expand access to early childhood education.
But now comes the hard part.
I am going to be working to make sure that the U.S. Department of Education is giving Washington state the guidance, tools and support it needs to effectively implement this law. And I am going to be fighting for federal budgets that invest in education and give states the resources they need to keep the promises we’ve made to our students.
But the federal government can’t do this alone. Schools, districts and the state are going to need to step up and craft plans that will raise student achievement, increase graduation rates and help all students succeed. And it will be as important as ever for those who have shared their stories and helped me push this new law over the finish line — parents, teachers, small-business owners and community leaders — to stay active and help make sure this law is working well for our state.
Because if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that policies work best when the people they impact most have a seat at the table and a voice in the process.
That’s what drives me as a senator today, and it’s what got me into politics in the first place. Back in the ’80s, when the state Legislature was going to shut down a preschool in my small community because of budget cuts, I organized other parents and we fought back — because we knew what a difference early learning programs can make in a child’s life.
Ordinary families making our voices heard saved that preschool program; it’s what helped me pass this bill to finally fix No Child Left Behind, and it’s what we need to make sure this new law works the way it needs to for Washington state students and parents.
ESSA being signed into law was a milestone, but it wasn’t the finish line. And I am going to keep working with anyone, Democrat or Republican, who is willing to put partisanship aside and work with me to continue investing in our students and helping our schools improve.