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In the midst of one of the most politically gridlocked eras in Washington, two U.S. senators from opposite sides of the political aisle set aside their differences to successfully champion the passage of a federal education law that touches millions of students, educators, and tens of thousands of public schools.
The passage the Every Student Succeeds Act marked the end of the maligned No Child Left Behind and the beginning of a new era in public education. For their leadership and significant contributions to public education, the National Education Association has bestowed its highest honor – the Friend of Education Award – upon Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican, and Washington Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat. It happened last week before more than 7,000 educators gathered at the NEA 95th Representative Assembly (RA) in Washington.
“The hard work and bipartisan cooperation of Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray to pass ESSA will ensure that all students – regardless of ZIP code – will have equal opportunity to a high-quality public education for years to come,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
They were instrumental not only in the passing of the critical K-12 federal education law, but they listened, they set the tone of bipartisan cooperation, and they got the job done on behalf of the nation’s students and educators. Their bold leadership ushered in a new chapter in public education, one in which educators have a seat at the table to make decisions that affect their students and classrooms. We are honored and grateful to call them an NEA Friend of Education.
“I am here to honor the classroom teachers who helped to fix No Child Left Behind,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, a chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “We’ve reversed the trend toward a national school board and restored responsibility for children in 100,000 public schools to states, communities and teachers. Our job last year was to pass a law. Our job this year is to make sure that the U.S. Secretary of Education implements the law the way Congress wrote it. So tell the Secretary: ‘no more national school board, no more ‘Mother, May I?’ waivers, and no more Washington mandates telling us exactly how to evaluate teachers and whether schools are succeeding or failing. The path to better schools is through decisions by those closest to our children, not through a distant department in Washington, D.C.”
“It’s an honor to receive the Friend of Education Award and to recognize all the incredible teachers and paraeducators that make up the National Education Association,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray, the HELP Committee’s ranking Democrat. “As leaders in our classrooms, schools, and communities—you make up the heart and soul of education in America. That’s why I worked so hard to make sure your voices were heard as ESSA was written and it’s why I am fighting to keep you in the room as the law is implemented. I look forward to continuing to work together so that every child in our nation has the opportunity to succeed—regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.”
The Friend of Education Award, presented each year during NEA’s Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly, which ended Thursday evening, recognizes a person or organization whose leadership, acts or support significantly have contributed to the improvement of American public education. Previous award recipients include PBS, Nobel-prize winning Malala Yousafzai; economist Paul Krugman; education policy writer and researcher Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond; U.S. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., and William Jefferson Clinton; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley; U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California), Sen. Patty Murray, and U.S. Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy (D-Massachusetts).