Magazine article Working Mother

Up for Debate

Magazine article Working Mother

Up for Debate

Article excerpt

In today's divisive political atmosphere, it's unusual for lawmakers from across the aisle to work together to create bipartisan legislation-which is why Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington are remarkable. As chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate education committee, the two managed in 2015 to dismantle the controversial No Child LeftBehind Act-a feat President Obama dubbed a "Christmas miracle." Its replacement: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which, says Murray, "reduces high-stakes testing and gives states more flexibility, with strong federal guardrails to ensure students don't fall through the cracks."

Perhaps their partnership is so successful because education hits close to home for both of them. Alexander's mother was a kindergarten teacher, and he served as Secretary of Education from 1991 to 1993. Before running for office, Murray was a preschool teacher. One of her first political acts was visiting her state senator to protest the closing of her kids' preschool. "I was told I couldn't make a difference because I was just a mom in tennis shoes," she recalls.

Or it's because they remember their schooling well. "One of the things you are supposed to learn in kindergarten is: Work well together," Alexander says. "To fix No Child LeftBehind, Sen. Murray and I focused on the 80 percent of things we agree on, rather than perpetually arguing about the 20 percent on which we couldn't agree."

One key thing they don't agree on: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Alexander voted for her, while Murray voted against. Her confirmation revealed deep divisions between defenders of the country's publicschool system and those who want more federal money devoted to private and charter schools, like DeVos.

Shortly after President Trump's proposed budget was released, which includes $10.6 billion in cuts to federal education initiatives, with some of the money redirected to charter schools and private-school-voucher programs, we asked Alexander and Murray to tell us what they think is best for your kids.

President Trump's budget includes cuts to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides afterschool services to more than 1.8 million kids across the country. Do you support the program going forward?

A It has broad bipartisan support. It is always appropriate to examine the effectiveness of federal programs through the budget process and compare that to the money available, but I expect Congress to continue to support these learning centers.

M I absolutely support it. It provides critical academic and enrichment opportunities for children, particularly in high-poverty areas, and those are the kinds of investments that pay offfor us in the future as a country.

The proposed budget also includes an increase of millions for grants to expand charter schools. Do you support this?

A Yes. In 1993, the last thing I did as education secretary was ask all of the school superintendents in the country to try charter schools, a new idea that had been created by the Democratic- Farmer-Labor party in Minnesota. There were only 12 of them then. There are 6,800 today. We've since made great progress with them, and have had strong bipartisan support.

M What concerns me most about President Trump and Secretary DeVos' proposed budget is the deep cuts to investments that help the overwhelming majority of students who attend public schools. …

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