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Wicker: Bipartisan Education Bill Would Offer States More Control, Flexibility

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U.S. Senator Roger Wicker

School may be out for the summer, but lawmakers have an important assignment to complete in the coming days. A bill to reform America’s education system is headed to the Senate floor for the first time in eight years.

Curbing Federal Overreach in the Classroom

There is bipartisan consensus that more should be done to improve our nation’s classrooms and students’ chances of success. For the past three years, the Obama Administration has issued waivers exempting states from education requirements in current law. These waivers have been granted on the condition that a different set of standards created by the Administration are met.

Swapping one set of federal requirements for another, however, does not eliminate the problem of Washington overreach in the classroom. Instead of acting like a national school board, the Department of Education should empower states, school districts, educators, and parents to decide what is best for their students. They are in a unique position to evaluate specific needs and challenges. They should have the flexibility to find targeted solutions to meet these needs.

The “Every Child Achieves Act,” introduced by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would help return control to states and school districts by ending the federal test-based accountability system. It would also prohibit national mandates for a specific set of standards such as Common Core. Instead, states would have the authority to establish their own academic standards, accountability systems, and measures to improve low-performing schools.

Preparing Students for STEM Careers

As co-chair of the Senate STEM Education and Workforce Caucus, I am especially pleased with the bill’s attention to the importance of teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Specifically, states could create a STEM Master Teacher Corps to recruit and retain teachers in these fields. In addition, the bill would authorize funding for the professional development of STEM teachers. It also includes STEM in the definition of “core academic subjects,” allowing states to prioritize initiatives that match local STEM demands.

With STEM-related job growth on the rise, these skills are vital to building a competitive and prepared workforce, particularly in states like Mississippi with strong manufacturing industries. Moreover, those with STEM jobs typically earn a higher salary than their non-STEM counterparts.

Wicker Amendment Would Broaden Climate Education

After extensive debate, the “Every Child Achieves Act” received unanimous support in committee. I expect it to draw similarly broad support in the full Senate. I look forward to offering an amendment that would equip states and local education agencies with balanced resources on climate theory. Science education on the climate should promote an open discussion through critical thinking and independent thought. My amendment would ensure the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration provide objective materials to reflect the complex factors affecting climate and the uncertainties in climate modeling predictions.

Reforming education policy is an investment in the success of tomorrow’s labor force and the future of the U.S. economy. It is deeply troubling that the size of our workforce has shrunk to near-record lows as working-age Americans grow discouraged by the job market. Putting people to work, staying competitive in the global marketplace, and fostering cutting-edge innovation begin in the classroom. I am glad the Senate is ready to act.

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