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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said he is pleased with the passage of the final education package which will give rural schools the flexibility to most effectively prepare their students to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Enzi said the education conference report, passed by the Senate today in a vote of 87-10, is a comprehensive overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. Enzi said it is the principal federal law effecting K-12 education today, authorizing $26.5 billion for elementary and secondary education in 2002, about $8 billion more than the year before.

"After nearly six months of working out disagreements on this bill we finally have a finished product that reflects the most significant education reform in nearly 40 years," said Enzi.

Enzi, who helped write the bill, said the package emphasizes accountability, flexibility and local control, funding for programs that work and expanded parental control. It also sets increased access to technology, high quality teachers and safe learning environments as a priority.

"I'm pleased with the legislation because it fulfills an important commitment to Wyoming, which is already heavily invested in improving student achievement, by allowing the flexibility needed to continue to innovate," said Enzi.

Enzi said the bill makes important changes to accountability standards by focusing on narrowing the achievement gap, while allowing states to continue to develop their own assessments. School districts would be required to submit annual "report cards" based on state standards. Schools with continuously low scores would be required to provide supplemental services such as tutoring, after school services and summer programs.

In addition, states would be required to administer the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) every other year in both the fourth and eighth grades. These tests would allow parents to compare how their children's school is progressing in relation to others locally and nationally, but would not be used to determine the progress of individual students, or have any impact on how federal funds are distributed.

"These tests will simply act as a tool for parents to evaluate the performance of their child's school against others in the nation," said Enzi.

Enzi said the bill also contains reforms to help ensure that children are taught by highly qualified teachers. States and local school districts would be allowed to use federal money to develop high quality professional development programs, provide incentives to retain quality teachers, fund innovative teacher programs such as teacher testing, merit-based teacher performance systems or alternative routes of certification, or hire additional teachers if necessary.

"Rural states like Wyoming often have difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers, especially highly qualified teachers. States and local school districts need the flexibility to provide incentives that will encourage good teachers to continue to teach," said Enzi.

The plan also includes the Rural Education Achievement Program, a program that would permit rural schools to combine funding from various formula grant programs to allow the school to determine how best to spend their money. School districts would be able to use this money to provide educational technology, professional development, technical assistance, teacher recruitment and retention, among other uses.

The legislation would also help improve the use of technology in classrooms by consolidating current technology programs into targeted state programs. Enzi said this would help small states to more effectively use funds to meet their technology needs.

"Ensuring that rural students are technologically literate is vitally important to many communities in Wyoming," said Enzi. "Due to the isolated nature of many small, rural towns, technology can offer rural students academic opportunities that they would otherwise not have," said Enzi.

Enzi said that improvements to the Impact Aid program were also made which will allow districts and schools that are most heavily impacted to be served first through competitive construction grants authorized by the bill. The Impact Aid program affects communities that have military bases, Indian reservations or other federal property districts that limit the ability to generate funds to pay for education.

The House passed the education plan on Dec. 13 by a vote of 381-41. The bill will next be sent to the President for him to sign into law early next year.


The complete text of Enzi's remarks from the Senate floor are included below.

SENATOR MIKE ENZI
H.R. 1 CONFERENCE REPORT
FLOOR STATEMENT
DECEMBER 17, 2001

Thank you, Mr. President. As a member of the Conference Committee which spent nearly 6 months considering this bill I am especially pleased to be here today to talk about this landmark legislation. As many of my colleagues have and will mention, this bill provides the most comprehensive education reforms since 1965. I am happy to report that it lives up to its name by achieving the simple yet powerful goal of ensuring that No Child is Left Behind.

This conference report reflects an agenda that President Bush made clear during his first days in office when he invited lawmakers to his ranch in Crawford to discuss his number one domestic priority, education reform. It emphasizes accountability, flexibility and local control, funding for programs that work, and expanding parental control. Students' access to technology, high quality teachers, and safe learning environments are also a priority. In addition, this legislation fulfills an important commitment to states like Wyoming that are already heavily invested in improving student achievement by allowing them the flexibility they need to continue to innovate.

H.R. 1 strikes a good balance between making sure that federal funds are well spent and maintaining appropriate state and local control of education. It significantly changes accountability standards with the goal of ensuring that low income and minority students are learning as well as other students, yet it also prohibits national testing or federal control over curriculum. While states will be required to administer the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as NAEP) every other year in grades 4 and 8, there will be no rewards of sanctions associated with the results. The use of NAEP will simply be a tool for parents to evaluate the performance of their child's school against others in the nation.

Some of the most important provisions in this bill concern our nation's teachers. As we all know, one of our greatest educational resources are our teachers. I say this not only because my daughter is a teacher, but because research has found that, with the exception of involved parents, no other factor affects a child's academic achievement more than having knowledgeable, skillful teachers. There were several places where contentious negotiations took place during the deliberations on this conference report, but one area that was not negotiable was ensuring that our children have high quality teachers, especially when it comes to reading and math.

H.R. 1 contains unprecedented reforms that will help to ensure that all children are taught by a highly qualified teacher. Unlike more restrictive proposals that would require states and local school districts to use federal funds exclusively for the purpose of hiring new teachers, this legislation provides maximum flexibility to states. It will allow them to develop high quality professional development programs, provide incentives to retain quality teachers, fund innovative teacher programs such as teacher testing, merit-based teacher performance systems or alternative routes of certification, or hire additional teachers if that's what they believe is necessary.

Despite all of these efforts to improve teacher quality, there are some who say all we really need to do to improve student achievement is to hire more teachers. For small, rural states like Wyoming this is not the answer. While I certainly recognize that our nation is facing a teacher shortage in the coming years, Wyoming currently has a declining student enrollment which is forcing some school districts to eliminate teaching positions. Money specifically earmarked for hiring new teachers will be of little help to schools in these areas with declining enrollment. In addition, rural states like Wyoming often have difficultly recruiting and retaining teachers, especially highly qualified teachers. Money that is earmarked for hiring new teachers will not help Wyoming keep our best teachers from leaving the state. Congress must provide states and local school districts with the flexibility to pay good teachers more money, or provide them with other incentives, in order to encourage them to continue teaching.

It is because of issues like these that I am particularly pleased that this legislation pays special attention to rural school districts. H.R. 1 provides rural districts with increased flexibility and funding to enhance academic achievement, while helping to ensure that students in rural areas have equal access to educational opportunities. As many folks from Wyoming are aware, rural schools often receive too little money from federal categorical formula grant programs to provide meaningful services to their students. In addition, they generally do not have the personnel or resources necessary to secure federal competitive grants, which many schools use to augment and innovate beyond what is provided for in formula grant programs. The Rural Education Achievement Program (also known as Rural Flex), that is included in this bill addresses these problems by permitting rural schools to combine funding from a number of different formula grants. This allows rural schools to better serve their students by allowing them the flexibility to determine where their money can do the most good. Eligible school districts can use funds for virtually any activity authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including educational technology, professional development, technical assistance, and teacher recruitment and retention.

The conference report also makes it clear that rural districts often face unique challenges in implementing restructuring actions that result from five consecutive years of failure and they should be given flexibility as long as they are held to the same accountability requirements as all other districts. This bill will allow rural schools that have failed to make progress, but may not have the resources necessary to hire a completely new staff of teachers or find a private contractor willing to take over the school's governance, to take advantage of additional options as long as they are equally rigorous and are likely to help the school improve their performance. Under this same provision, the Secretary of Education will be required to assist rural districts who request assistance in implementing alternative governance arrangements. I would like to thank Senators Collins, Murray and Bingaman for their hard work on this language.

I am also pleased that the Conferees were willing to recognize that schools in rural areas and small towns often require additional assistance to implement an advanced technology curriculum. Due to the isolated nature of many small, rural towns technology can offer rural students academic opportunities that they otherwise would not have. Ensuring that rural students are technologically literate is vitally important to many communities in my state of Wyoming. I am pleased that the Conferees have demonstrated their commitment to improve academic performance in rural areas and help rural students participate in the highly competitive economy of the 21st Century.

This bill also preserves the integrity of the federal educational programs that impact Native American children. As a Senator from the state of Wyoming, which is home to several Indian tribes, I believe it is critically important that the United States continue to fulfill the Federal Government's unique and continuing trust relationship with and responsibility to the American Indian people for the education of Indian children. I am confident that the actions of this Conference Committee have helped to ensure that the programs that serve Indian children are of the highest quality and provide for not only the basic elementary and secondary educational needs, but also the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of these children.

I am also pleased that we were able to make improvements to the Impact Aid program that affects so many areas of our nation that have military bases, Indian reservations, or other federal property districts that limit the ability to generate funds to pay for education. I am pleased that we were able to come up with a compromise that allows districts and schools that are most heavily impacted to be served first through the competitive construction grants that are authorized by this bill. It is my hope that the changes made by this conference committee will emphasize the importance of making Impact Aid construction grants on the basis of greatest need, and maximized effort, so that we can continue to fulfill the federal government's obligation to impacted districts and the children that reside there.

As a strong supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, and an Eagle Scout, I am glad to report that the H.R. 1 conference report includes a provision that would deny funding to any public school or educational agency that discriminates against or denies equal access to any group affiliated with the Boy Scouts.

Our children are our most valuable resource and we must prepare them to face the challenges of the 21st century. We can not do this by allowing Washington politicians to implement a one-size-fits-all approach to education. The No Child Left Behind Act allows states to decide how to best serve their students and teachers. I strongly support this conference report and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.

I would like to close by taking this opportunity to thank the President for his leadership on this historic legislation. If it were not for his determination to craft bipartisan reform of our nation's education system we would not have a bill before us today. I would also like to thank Senator Gregg and Senator Kennedy for their tireless efforts to craft the compromises that made this bill possible. They, and their hardworking staffs, deserve a great deal of credit for this bill as well.

Thank you Mr. President. I yield the floor.