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On Senate Floor, Kaine Discusses Teach Safe Relationships Act & CTE Provisions Included In Education Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In remarks on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine spoke about the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), which incorporates key provisions of his legislation to help prevent sexual assault by ensuring public secondary schools teach students “safe relationship behavior.” The Teach Safe Relationships Act, which Kaine introduced with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill in February,  would require all schools that apply for Title IV funding to describe how they are educating students about safe relationship behavior regardless of whether they use Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) funds for health education. The idea for the bill came out of a December 2014 meeting Kaine had at the University of Virginia to listen to students’ recommendations for preventing campus sexual assault.

"Communication, understanding what coercion is, understanding what consent is, understanding where to go for help – these are all matters that we will teach to our students at a younger age so that they can keep themselves safe," Kaine said. "The idea for this came from students at the University of Virginia. I went and visited with them to discuss sexual assault in December and they told me that they wished they had come to campus better prepared…I praise them for putting this great idea on my radar." 

Earlier yesterday, Kaine applauded his Senate colleagues for unanimously passing an amendment he introduced to ECAA that designates career and technical education (CTE) as a core academic subject. Video from Kaine's earlier remarks is available here

“I grew up working in my dad’s ironworking and welding shop. I ran a school that taught kids to be welders and carpenters in Honduras many years ago, and what I learned is that high-quality technical information is an important part of the educational spectrum,” said Kaine. "This bill broadens what is a core curriculum to include computer science and foreign languages, and this amendment would make plain that high-quality career and technical education is a core academic subject.”

The CTE amendment is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tim Scott (R-SC) and Mark Warner (D-VA). 

Full transcript of Kaine's remarks are available below:  

Mr. President, I also rise in support of the Every Child Achieves Act and the good work that is being done in a bipartisan way to move elementary and secondary education forward in this country. I applaud Senators Alexander and Murray and all HELP committee members and their staffs for the good work that's been done on this bill. This is huge and important to our nation's children, but even more importantly to our economy and our global competitiveness and the fact that we're approaching it in a bipartisan manner creates a lot of hope and optimism.

I speak with a number of roles. I was well educated in public, private and parochial schools myself. My three children have gone through the Richmond Public School system, an urban public school system in Virginia during the era of No Child Left Behind, so federal education policy was coming home in their backpack crumpled up at the end of every day, and my wife and I have kind of lived through that with them. My wife is the current Secretary of Education in Virginia with the responsibility of carrying out state and federal education policy.

And then in my own role as an elected official, as mayor, education was our biggest expenditure and I visited a school in our city every Tuesday morning. As lieutenant governor, the state budget, education was our biggest priority, and I visited schools in all 134 cities and counties in Virginia. And then as governor, I had the opportunity, the great opportunity to work with our state, our teachers, our PTOs and other education stakeholders in the Virginia education system which 50 years ago was one of the weakest in the United States – I'm proud to say it’s now one of the best in the United States.  But I learned a lot as governor as No Child Left Behind was being implemented in the schools of my state, and I saw the good and the bad of No Child Left Behind, and I certainly saw the reason that we need to improve it, and that's what the Every Child Achieves Act does.

First, good. The good things of No Child Left Behind. I see two notable goods that, frankly, are critically important that we maintain. No Child Left Behind made us disaggregate student data so that we couldn't hide behind averages; averages can be deceiving. Virginia average test scores are great, but that doesn't mean they're great everywhere in Virginia. And so we have to dig in and look at whether minority students are performing well,  or whether rural students are performing well, or urban students, and No Child Left Behind helped us do that, not hide behind averages but really make sure truly that groups of students were not falling behind, either statewide or in the individual cities and counties.

The second thing No Child Left Behind left behind did is pretty amazing. Before No Child Left Behind, there was not a standardized definition of graduation or dropout rates in this country, so if you wanted to know how your own city was doing, or your own county was doing, or your own state was doing, and if you wanted to compare that against anywhere else, you couldn't because everybody was using their own measure and usually folks would try to fuzz up the data because they were afraid of being held accountable around graduation rates and dropout rates.

No Child Left Behind, together with some pioneering work from the National Governors' Association, ended up standardizing a definition of graduation and dropout rates, which enabled us to compare and compete with each other and not surprisingly – as President Obama discussed in the state of the union in the early part of 2015 – our graduation rates are better than they have ever been because now we can focus on them, we know who's doing well and who's not, and that sense of focus and competition is enabling us to move ahead.

But No Child Left Behind also had some unintended negative consequences. The intense focus on high-stakes testing – which is supposed to help you diagnose and then lead to educational strategies down the road – sometimes testing has become an end in itself rather than a means to an end: better student performance. And that creates all kinds of stresses on students and teachers and parents. 

And similarly, the focus on disaggregating student data which demonstrates that there are achievement gaps in certain communities whether it be minority communities, or rural, or urban areas, has often had the perverse consequence – when coupled with high-stakes testing – of encouraging some of our best and brightest teachers not to go into the schools where they're most needed. If they feel like they're punished if the test scores from kids they'll often choose not to go to those schools. That’s clearly not what we meant to do with No Child Left Behind, but that's one of its perverse consequences.

When I was governor I had a very funny – now it's funny, it wasn't funny at the time – argument with the federal Department of Education. They absolutely insisted that jurisdictions in northern Virginia were administering certain tests wrong to students who don't speak English as their first language at home. And indeed some of my cities and counties had a strategy of phasing students in – if they were coming from a background where they didn't speak English at home – they would be tested in special ways for the first couple of years they were in the school system and then mainstreamed even in the way they were tested. The Department of Education said you can't do that; you can’t do these tests differently.

What I would say to the Department of Education, “Hey, let me show you the SAT scores of my Latino students. Let me show you how they're doing when they graduate, that they're some of the highest performing students in the country. Clearly if you measure it by the outcomes, we're doing it the right way.”  But the Department of Education said, “Outcomes don't matter to us, we worry about the processes, and the inputs, and the way you provide the tests.”  Outcomes should be important, results should be important, and too often No Child Left Behind was administered in a way where results didn't matter, and that's not what should happen.

I applaud Senators Alexander and Murray for this bill because I believe the Every Child Achieves Act gives schools, districts and states the incentive to work for all students’ success but also the flexibility they need to close achievement gaps. The bill maintains critical annual testing requirements, to allow us to track the progress of students while letting states set their own goals for improvement. The bill invests in early childhood education which is critical to give states the authority to determine teacher qualifications in those areas and I am very, very glad that this bill recognizes that there are factors other than test scores that determine whether our students are being successful.

So I applaud this act and can't wait to vote for it.

I want to comment on just two amendments I've worked with my team and staff member Karishma Merchant, who is superb, to put into this bill – some that are already in the bill, some that I think are forthcoming or in process on the floor.

The first is the very important challenge of young people, age 16-24, who are in the most vulnerable time in their life to being victims of sexual assaults. A kid age 16-24, that is the most likely period in your life where you will be vulnerable to any kind of sexual assault or sexual misconduct. And that's whether you're in school, whether you're at college, whether you're in the military, whether you're in the work force, or whether you're somewhere else and we're spending a lot of time working on this issue. But this bill contains an amendment that I proposed called the Teach Safe Relationships Act to help tackle this issue.

Basically, under the amendment that Senator McCaskill and I introduced in February, schools that are receiving Title IV funds must report on how they are teaching safe relationship behaviors to students: communication, understanding what coercion is, understanding what consent is, understanding how to avoid pressure, understanding where to go to help. These are matters that we will teach to our students at a younger age so they can keep themselves safe.

And I need to give praise on this one, the idea from this came from students at the University of Virginia. I went and visited them about sexual assault on campus in December and they told me we wish we came to campus better prepared to deal with these issues. And I asked, “Them don't you take sex education classes in high school?” They said, “Yes, but the classes are about reproductive biology and there needs to be a little more about safe behavior and relationship strategies.”

I thought, “What a great idea!” That led to the amendment, the amendment has now been incorporated, and I thank the students at UVA who put this on my radar screen, and I thank Senators Alexander and Murray who have worked with me to incorporate this in the base bill. If we teach kids the right strategies -- whether it's military, or in college campuses, or in the work force, or anywhere else – our young students age 16 – 24 will be safer.

The second series of amendments – some have been included and others are being voted on, one today, one will be voted on Monday night – are amendments dealing with career and technical education. I was a principal of a school that taught kids to be welders and carpenters, I grew up the son of a guy who ran an ironworking shop. I am a huge believer in career and technical education.

Every job in this country doesn't need the traditional four-year bachelor's degree. In fact, there are many jobs in this country – and the unemployment rate is still too high – there are many jobs in this country that are going unfilled. Welders, we have to bring welders in on foreign visas and other important career and technical fields because we don't adequately promote and celebrate career and technical education.  This is similar to the previous speech about STEM.

I have formed a Career and Technical Education Caucus together with Senators Portman and Baldwin. We introduced a Career Ready Act, some portions have already been included in the bill, another portion will be voted on Monday night. But the idea is basically to make career and technical education every bit as front and center as college prep courses because we want our kids to graduate from high school both college and career ready, and career and technical education is an important part of that.

Earlier today we passed an amendment to make clear that, for federal purposes, Career and Technical Education is not elective; it's core curriculum. Because it's core, important education; nations around the world recognize it, and we need to as well.

And I have two additional amendments. We’ll consider one Monday night, the Career Ready Act, which encourages but does not require the use of accountability indicators in state accountability plans to promote readiness for postsecondary education and career readiness. 41 states already do this. We will encourage more to do it if we pass the Career Ready Act amendment.

And second I have an amendment that I’m still working on, I hope to get it on the floor – it is bipartisan by introduction: Senator Ayotte and I have this – it's to create a middle school career and technical exploration program called Middle STEP. Kids in the middle school years, if they get a broader exposure to the careers available to them, then they will be better equipped to start picking curricular paths when they get to high school.

I am so passionate about the need for career and technical education because I lived it growing up in my dad's business and teaching kids in Honduras the value of career and technical fields. Everywhere I go in this country I have employers who tell me they need workers who are skilled, whether it's in allied health professionals like EMTs, or culinary training, or welding and ironworking training, or computer coding.

These career and technical fields that require some postsecondary education but not necessarily a four-year college degree are paths to great livelihoods, we don't often emphasize them enough and this bill will help us do that.

I’ll just close and say this. It's been 13 years since Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It's time to update No Child Left Behind, and this is good work to do it.

President Kennedy said in a message to Congress in 1961, and these words still ring true, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. Our requirements for world leadership, our hopes for economic growth, and the demands of citizenship itself in an era such as this all require the maximum development of every young American’s capacity.”

That is almost a great 20th century paraphrase of what, a Virginian, Thomas Jefferson said in the 1780's, “Progress in government and all else depends upon the broadest possible diffusion of knowledge among the population.”

Those words were true then. Senator Kennedy’s words were true. Education is still the path to success for an individual or for a community and nation and we will advance the cause of education and the cause of success if we  pass Every Child Achieves Act.

And with that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.