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Congressman Bobby Scott

Representing the 3rd District of Virginia

PROVIDING FOR CONGRESSIONAL DISAPPROVAL OF RULE SUBMITTED BY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION RELATING TO ACCOUNTABILITY AND STATE PLANS

February 7, 2017
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding. I rise in strong opposition of H.J. Res. 57. This resolution takes aim at the heart of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. That bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. This resolution would strike down regulations that provide necessary clarity to States about what it means to ensure that all students are taught to high standards, and what it means to provide accurate data on student academic performance and resource equity.

   States now lack direction needed to proceed with implementation of the bill. Just last week, the Department removed all ESSA technical assistance to the States from the public domain, despite numerous and repeated requests for technical assistance from State and local leaders.

   Mr. Speaker, when Congress came together to pass ESSA, we made a promise, the promise of stability and consistency and a full replacement of No Child Left Behind. And while we promised new flexibilities, those flexibilities came with guardrails to guide the decisionmaking, to ensure protections for vulnerable students, and to support educators and school leaders. This resolution breaks that bipartisan promise.

   Contrary to the wishes of some, ESSA was not a blank check to States from the Federal Government. ESSA is a fundamental approach with much power restored to the State and local level, but it comes with Federal protections for vulnerable students. So we must not waver in our commitment to give States the support and guidance they need to move forward.

   Mr. Speaker, some claim the regulations are unnecessary because States can just read the law and implement it. But we all know, based on precedence and common sense, that the new landscape of ESSA would necessitate regulatory clarity from the executive branch, just as all Federal agencies routinely update existing regulations as new legislation is passed.

   Providing stakeholders with direction and clarity about how to carry out the Federal laws as big as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is not new. No Child Left Behind led the Bush administration to undergo similar rulemaking, and it was more than 2 years before the regulations were fully realized. It also enabled States, in their efforts, to move forward with timely submission of their ESSA plans.

   If this resolution of disapproval is enacted, States will have no ability to prepare State plans that require Federal approval until after the Department reestablishes requirements and criteria, causing an unwelcome and unnecessary delay for States eager to move forward, leaving ESSA unregulated before States to just wait until the new regulations are passed, and also undo months of work that is currently underway.

   In effect, the lack of clarity on how to effectively utilize the new flexibilities, while meeting statutory requirements, may lead many States to revert to--they have to revert to something--maybe the No Child Left Behind narrow policies and systems, the very policies that the ESSA eliminated.

   Mr. Speaker, where the law's requirements are ambiguous, agency interpretation is necessary to set a Federal floor. Without that floor, compliance with the Federal law becomes subjective, with different standards being applied from State to State. This kind of subjectivity was the same problem we had with No Child Left Behind when States relied on guidance without regulation.

   Under that scheme, the Department could not be held accountable for treating one State different from another, and that is what we are correcting through the enactment and regulation of ESSA's core requirements. Those requirements must be applied fairly across all States. That is the whole point of a Federal law.

   The Department conducted hundreds of meetings, held

   public forums and listening sessions, and read and responded to thousands of comments to produce a consensus-driven rule. The Department made significant revisions before finalization, and they were met with praise from teachers, State education chiefs, local administrators, parents, and civil rights communities.

   Regardless of whether you think the rule is perfect or flawed, the substance of the rule is a reasonable interpretation that provides clarity for States to enable their compliance with statutory requirements. Now, President Trump has administrative tools at his disposal to revise or completely rewrite this regulation. However, it is clear, based on history of implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that regulatory clarity is necessary.

   Using the CRA to block the rule is unnecessary and shortsighted. It hurts students and schools. It undermines a bipartisan intent of Congress and leaves States in a lurch by causing confusion and delays for the submission of their State plans. It also undermines equity protections for vulnerable students that the law was intended to serve. This resolution threatens the success of the law we fought so hard to pass, so I urge a ``no'' vote.