Educators use congressional recess to discuss students’ needs with federal lawmakers

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by Brian Washington

Jim Grimes is one of about 68 people fanning out all across the state of Illinois to meet with Members of Congress.

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are currently in the midst of a 5-week recess, which means, in addition to recharging their batteries before returning to Washington, D.C., lawmakers also have time to take on meetings with constituents.

Grimes, who teaches radio and television at Kankakee Community College, said he managed to get a little face time with Illinois’ senior senator, and a man he describes as a friend for over 30-years, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.

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Illinois educator Jim Grimes

“It was at a large political event so I only had a few minutes to speak with him,” said Grimes. “But I had a chance to thank him for his support.”

Like Grimes, educators all across the nation are using this recess to meet with their representatives in Congress to talk about the newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA). The bill was approved last month by both the House and Senate. And while certainly not a perfect bill, educators say ECAA is the nation’s best opportunity to redo ESEA and get it right.

“We (educators) are very encouraged,” said Grimes, who spent a considerable amount of time talking to Durbin’s staff about the bill’s final passage. “I think they (Durbin’s education staff) see an opportunity to get a good final bill and pass it.”

Meanwhile, in the state of Washington, about 10 educators sat down with U.S. Senator Patty Murray and her staff about how to finish the job of passing the ECAA and creating opportunity for all students. They also discussed the negative impact of high-stakes testing under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) on students and how it set up every school to fail, regardless of progress.

“No Child Left Behind may have had good intentions, but the reality of what the original ESEA was trying to achieve, equal opportunity for every child, has been stopped dead in its tracks,” said Kim Mead, an industrial arts teacher who now heads up the Washington Education Association, representing thousands of educators across the state.

Our children deserve a great education regardless of zip code. ESEA needs to change to provide what students need and be reauthorized before another generation is penalized by bad policy.

In a recent statement, the National Education Association, which believes the Senate’s version of ECAA would be most beneficial to students, urged lawmakers to get the bill approved as quickly as possible.

“We remain committed to helping move the legislative process forward to improve this already strong legislation in conference, and we will not rest until a final bill has the President’s signature,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who represents more than 3-million educators nationwide.

A bi-partisan conference committee is expected to get the bill ready for final passage shortly after lawmakers get back from recess, around Tuesday, September 8th.

In the meantime, Grimes is encouraging ALL educators to meet with their federal representatives about ESEA and what needs to be done to make sure all students can succeed academically.

“It’s important to share our stories,” said Grimes. “They (lawmakers) need to hear the stories of educators from classrooms and college campuses nationwide. They (lawmakers) need to know how the laws they create impact us and, more importantly, impact our students.”

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