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December 9, 2015 - CONGRESSIONAL FAIL: DC Crony-style Education Goes Bigger and Badder


While we can't say we were surprised by the result, along with parents, teachers, and education activists across the nation, we were frustrated and disappointed this morning to watch the 1,061-page Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) sail through the U.S. Senate with only 12 dissenting votes. Most of the names will likely already be familiar. With only two exceptions they are the same as those voting no on yesterday's cloture motion on the bill.

Details on the Vote

One of the most egregious moments during today's Senate floor session came just after the vote when Senator Lamar Alexandar, one of the leads on ESSA's creation and advancement, evidently couldn't stop himself from appallingly gushing on the Senate floor that ESSA was a giant Christmas gift to the nation's children. Our response...?

Then there were the senators running for president...or, perhaps we should say, then there WEREN'T most of the senators running for president.

Ted Cruz, who voted no on cloture yesterday, issued a press release on the bill but was absent for today's final vote. While cloture was actually the more important vote, today's absence is deeply regrettable for a Republican presidential candidate, even if it would have been largely a symbolic vote. Optics actually matter. While Senator Cruz has taken one of the strongest stances against #FedLedEd, not only among senators but among 2016 presidential candidates, he should still get some hard questions on the campaign trail about why he wasn't present to make a final, decisive stand with his colleagues against the biggest expansion of federal education in 10 years. Senator Cruz did issue a press release, but unfortunately it expresses regret at ESSA's elimination of Title I portability. We hope some of his supporters will help him to understand that Title I portability was just more poison. When money follows the child, so do troubling regulations. Considering the amount of centralization and standardization being pushed, such regulation transported into alternatives to the public system can only ultimately result in the closing off of escape routes and the homogenization of any educational entities that take DC's crony-tainted dollars. 

Marco Rubio was AWOL on both yesterday's cloture motion and today's final vote. Cloture was, arguably, the more important and revealing of the two. People should thus be pressing Rubio, who's made a lot of noise on the campaign trail and from the debate stage about the need to end Fed ed, about his whereabouts for both votes. Not having been present for the cloture vote, the Republican presidential candidate should at the very least have been present today to register his official position. Is he hedging his bets with different audiences--his base versus big donors?  Is he serious about ending fed-led ed or isn't he? We increasingly have doubts, particularly since much of his rhetoric of late has begun to suggest that he favors career-tracking in higher ed. That's a very slippery slope to career-tracking in K-12 education, we promise you...and K-12 career-tracking is already a major problem.

Bernie Sanders, running for president on the Democratic ticket, was also noticeably absent for both the cloture and final votes. We are convinced both votes cast by the junior senator from Vermont would have been no if he'd been in attendance. He was openly supportive of the Every Child Achieves Act, the Senate's pre-conference version of ESSA. It still bothers us that Sanders couldn't be bothered to translate his position into official votes so that his supporters and others can know where he actually stands and whether they can actually count on him. 

There is an obvious question: Why, of four senators running for president, did only one of them, Rand Paul, show up to make both votes? We commend Senator Paul and thank him for resisting expansion of federal control of education in an official capacity right up to the bitter end.

On the final vote, while we lost Ted Cruz to absence, we picked up Jeff Flake. While we're certainly gratefulr for any no vote we got today, let's be clear that Flake's vote was relatively meaningless. It would have carried a lot more weight if he'd stood against the cloture motion yesterday. Coming in to vote no only on the final vote today has the distinct look of a vote permitted by Republican leadership in order to help Flake save face with his base. We can't say that for certain. Only Senator Flake will likely ever know why he didn't vote no in both instances. But again, optics matter. Senator Flake would do well to remember that reality.

So, What the Heck Just Passed?

ESSA isn't just a reauthorization of ESEA. Along with every previous ESEA reauthorization, it's another expansion of federal control of education, one which makes the states the primary enforcers for federal mandates. It actually entrenches Common Core and summative testing in more grade levels. It further facilitates punishment of teachers. It keeps the spigots of student data wide open and belching out personal information that can be leveraged against children, teachers, parents, and schools. It expands federal control of pre-K education and gives the Department of Health and Human Services co-administration of much of that programming. It further enriches private entities at the expense of kids, parents, teachers, and taxpayers. And that's just for starters. In fact, for anyone still in doubt about ESSA's nature, we would urge you to peruse any or all of the valuable documentation and analysis listed in our December 7th post. To get your feet wet in what this fight has been about, you can also check out this November 28th post and video, created by Resounding Books Founder and Editor-in-Chief Kirsten Lombard. While the fight is over, Kirsten provides some excellent information that should help you grasp important basics about ESSA, what's come before it, and what this bill will do.

Undoubtedly, additional details will soon emerge as experts and activists continue to dissect a bill that was released for public and congressional review a mere three days before receiving a floor vote in the House. Senators apparently didn't do much more homework in the 9 days they had to look at the conferenced legislation. Nor do most of them seem to have bothered or cared. They were evidently mostly content to listen to leaderships utterly hollow and misleading talking points and vote only on what they were told was in the bill. Either that, or they were delighted to expand federal control and benefit a bunch of heavy-hitting campaign donors.

With a cloture vote of 84-12 and a final vote of 85-12, it's clear, as we had warned, that help from the Senate was never likely. Nevertheless, we thank every parent, teacher, and citizen activist who got on the phone, sent emails, Facebooked, or tweeted about this issue over the past months, and in particular the last two weeks. It was terribly important that senators know they were pushing ESSA through without the consent of the governed. They needed to know that we all understood this bill, in truth, benefited only publc-private partners, while doing damage to everything else that mattered: true education and learning, the craft of teaching, the autonomy of states and local districts, parental rights, and student data privacy. 

What Now...?

President Obama has said he plans to sign the bill into law this Friday, December 11th.

To be very blunt, all bets are off. We believe the situation is now very serious. The upshot of this bill is that it aims to increase compliance with federal mandates...not, as falsely advertised, to hand options and proper authority over education back to states and local districts. Because the states have now been made enforcers under this brutal bill, if states want federal money, they're going to get in line. If you thought your state departments of ed, your chief superintendents, your state school boards were acting thuggish before, we doubt you've seen anything yet. A lot more is coming. 

Moreover, as noted, ESSA increases summative testing. One would think that would increase the value of opting out. And isn't it convenient that they supposedly made opt out "permissable" in this bill. Don't be fooled. For starters, opting out is the right of any parent. It is not a privilege granted by government. So, no matter what the bill said about opting out, it would have been a joke. But the thing people will need to quickly grasp is that the authors of this bill only smiled on opt out because they knew it was actually going to cease to matter in the very near future. A shift is taking place away from summative testing as the principle form of student data collection. What's happening is that EVERYTHING that happens in or relative to the classroom/school, including anything done on school-based or -owned computers, is becoming part of the data stream. And you can't opt your child out of everything...without removing your child from school. If your child attends a public school or any other that takes federal monies either directly or via passthrough, nothing your child says or does is going to be off limits.

Something's got to give. Things are going to have to change. New forms of resistance will have to be decided upon and encouraged.

This is undoubtedly a painful reality for many, but it's terribly important that we waste no time in grasping it.

We will have far more to say in the near future on this subject.For now, please start doing your own research if you haven't already. Start weighing the situation and options for protecting your children in the face of what's coming. 

Resounding Books is already in the process of having serious discussions with other activists and organizations we trust, all the way across the political and ideological spectrum, as you might expect of us. We will be taking an official stand in the near future and making recommendations about what we believe you should do. We are also determined to present you with intelligent, relevant dialogue between activists, possibilities, and, most importantly...hope. We won't leave you or your children hanging.

Despite the darkness, don't lose heart. Much more to come.

Stay tuned...

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