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Day One of Senate ESEA Debate: Rift Over Accountability Grows

For the first time since 2001, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday began debating a bill that would overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—though the fireworks are yet to come.

Day One of the likely two-week-long federal K-12 debate was more ceremonial than anything, with the bill’s co-authors, Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., thanking each other for their hard work and dedication to preserving the bipartisan aspect of the measure to rewrite the law’s current version, the No Child Left Behind Act.

Alexander spent a fair amount of time on the chamber floor outlining what he considers the most important aspects of the bill, namely that it would roll back the influence of the federal government and provide additional flexibility to states and local school districts, especially when it comes to creating their own accountability systems.

“If you, like I do, believe high standards and teacher evaluations are the underpinning of a great education system … you do not want to create a backlash to those efforts by insisting on them from Washington, D.C.,” he said.

The Senate education committee chairman also dedicated much of his floor time to emphasizing that the bill would prohibit the federal government from mandating or incentivizing any particular set of academic standards, including the Common Core State Standards.