Press Releases

Alexander: ‘Troubling Number of Parents are Not Vaccinating Their Children’

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; February 10, 2015:

Says U.S. spending more than $5 billion to fight Ebola, which has no vaccine, while we experience outbreaks of diseases for which we have vaccines

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 10, 2015 –U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate health committee, today said, “vaccines save lives.”

At a hearing on the re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases, Alexander said: “From smallpox to polio, we have learned in the United States that vaccines save lives.  And yet a troubling number of parents are not vaccinating their children.”

The senator’s prepared remarks follow:

From smallpox to polio, we have learned in the United States that vaccines save lives.  And yet a troubling number of parents are not vaccinating their children.

Last September this committee held a hearing about the Ebola virus. Our witnesses included a brave physician, Dr. Kent Brantly, who worked in Liberia; and a brave father in Sierra Leone who came to warn us about how rapidly the virus was spreading.

The number of people being infected with Ebola was doubling every three weeks, and many of those infected were dying—because for Ebola there was and is no cure, and there was and is no vaccine.

This produced a near panic in the U.S.—it changed procedures in nearly every hospital and clinic.

In response, Congress appropriated more than $5 billion to fight the spread of the virus.

The impact of efforts to fight Ebola is that the number of Ebola cases is declining.

At the same time, here in the U.S. we are now experiencing a large outbreak of a disease for which we do have a vaccine.

Measles used to sicken up to 4 million Americans each year—and many believed that it was an unpreventable childhood illness—but the introduction of a vaccine in 1963 changed everything.

Measles was declared eliminated—meaning absence of continuous disease transmission for greater than 12 months—from the United States in 2000.

From 2001 to 2012, the median yearly number of measles cases reported in all of the U.S. was 60.

Today is February 10, 2015. It is the 41st day of the year and we already have seen more cases of measles than we would in a typical year.

One measles outbreak—in Palatine, Illinois, an Illinois suburb about a half hour from Chicago—has affected at least five babies, all less than a year old.

Infants and individuals who are immunocompromised are traditionally protected by what is called herd immunity—the people around them are vaccinated, so they don’t get sick, and that keeps the babies and others who can’t get vaccinated from getting sick.

That herd immunity is incredibly important. Measles can cause life-threatening complications in children, such as pneumonia or swelling of the brain.

Our witnesses today will talk more not just about what is causing this outbreak, but why some parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children.

Measles is only one example. This hearing was planned before the measles outbreak reminded us of the importance of vaccines.

An analysis of immunization rates across 13 states performed by USA Today found:

“Hundreds of thousands of students attend schools — ranging from small, private academies in New York City to large public elementary schools outside Boston to Native American reservation schools in Idaho — where vaccination rates have dropped precipitously low, sometimes under 50%.

California is one of 20 states that allow parents to claim personal belief exemptions from vaccination requirements.

In some areas of Los Angeles, 60 to 70 percent of parents at certain schools have filed a personal belief exemption.  In these elementary schools, vaccination rates are as low as those in Chad or South Sudan.

The purpose of this hearing is to examine what is standing between healthy children and deadly diseases. It ought to be vaccinations. But too many parents are turning away from sound science.

Sound science is this: Vaccines save lives.

They save the lives of the people who are vaccinated. They protect the lives of the vulnerable around them—like infants and those who are ill.

Vaccines save lives.

They protect us from the ravages of awful diseases like polio, which invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis. Or whooping cough, which causes thick mucus to accumulate in the airways and can make it difficult for infants to breathe. Or, diphtheria, a bacterial infection that affects the mucous membranes of your nose and throat and can, in advanced stages, damage your heart, kidneys and nervous system.

Vaccines save lives.

They take deadly, awful, ravaging diseases from horror to history.

So it is troubling to hear that before we’ve even reached Valentine’s Day this year, 121 people are sick with measles, a disease eliminated in the U.S. 15 years ago.

It is troubling that a growing number of parents are not following the recommendations doctors and public health professionals have been making for decades.

At a time when we are standing on the cusp of medical breakthroughs never imagined — cutting-edge personalized medicine tailored to an individual’s genome – we find ourselves retreading old ground.

I now turn to Ranking Member Murray for her opening statement.

Press Releases

Alexander, Murray Announce Bipartisan Effort to Fix ‘No Child Left Behind’

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; February 6, 2015:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 U.S. Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today released the following statement:

“We’ve agreed to move forward to develop a bipartisan chairman’s mark to fix No Child Left Behind. Our staffs will begin working today with each other and with the staffs of other senators on the committee. We know our constituents expect us to fix this broken law and improve education for students, families, and communities across the country—and we expect to succeed.”

Press Releases

Alexander: Feds Should Encourage Local Education Innovation, Not Mandate It

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; February 3, 2015:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2015 – At a roundtable on fixing No Child Left Behind today, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee, said the federal government ought to be an enabler and encourager, rather than a mandater, of state and local K-12 innovation.

Today’s roundtable marked the 27th hearing in the last six years about fixing No Child Left Behind or a related elementary and secondary education issue.

Below are excerpts of his prepared remarks:

This is the 27th hearing in the last six years about fixing No Child Left Behind or a related elementary and secondary education issue.

I hope we are not far from a conclusion—from moving from hearings and discussions to marking up a bill.

For today’s roundtable: How can we improve the federal law to encourage more states, districts, and schools to innovate? And when I say law, I should also draw attention to the regulations that have followed these laws.

For example, every state has to submit a plan to the federal government to receive its share of the $14.5 billion Title I program distributed to states for low-income children. That’s about $1,300 for every child who lives at or below the federal poverty line.

Those Title I applications are reviewed by the Department of Education, as well as by outside experts before you can spend a dime of that money.

In addition, 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are operating under waivers from the out-of-date and unworkable regulations in No Child Left Behind.

To receive those waivers, states have to submit waiver applications.

In Tennessee, that waiver application was 91 pages long with more than 170 pages of attachments. Since 2012, the state has had to submit eight different updates or amendments to the plan.

In addition to all this, the U.S. Department of Education spends another $9 -10 billion or so on about 90 different programs that are either authorized or funded under No Child Left Behind, with separate application and program requirements. These programs include Promise Neighborhoods and Investing in Innovation.

So are we spending this money in a way that makes it easier or harder for you to innovate and achieve better academic outcomes?

My own view is that the government ought to enable and encourage, not mandate, innovation. It can do this well.

For example, last year Congress overwhelmingly supported reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant program that gives grants to states that allow parents to receive a voucher for the child care of their choice so they can attend school or go to work.

Seven decades ago the G.I. Bill enabled World War II veterans to attend a college of their choice, helping them become the greatest generation. Today, half our college students have federal grants or loans that follow them to the colleges of their choice, enabling them to buy the surest ticket to a better life and job.

About 98 percent of the federal dollars that go to higher education follow the student to the school they attend.

In K-12, the only money that follows students to the school they attend is the school lunch program.

Now, I’ll turn to Ranking Member Murray for her opening statement and then we’ll get the conversation going.

Press Releases

Alexander: ‘Enormous Backlash’ from Washington Dictating State Teacher Evaluation Policies

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; January 27, 2015:

At Hearing on Teacher and Principal Evaluation, Says States Must Own Evaluation Systems — Washington Overreach “Makes a Hard Thing Even Harder”

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 27 –U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate education committee, today said Washington must encourage—but not mandate—teacher and principal evaluation systems if they want to improve the nation’s 100,000 public schools.

“My experience is that finding a way to fairly reward better teaching is the holy grail of K-12 education—but Washington will get the best long-term result by creating an environment in which states and communities are encouraged, not ordered, to evaluate teachers. Let’s not mandate it from Washington if we want them to own it and make it work.”

The chairman’s remarks follow:

Today’s hearing is all about better teaching—how we can create an environment so teachers, principals, and other leaders can succeed.

Governors around the country are focused on one issue: better jobs for the citizens in their states. And it doesn’t take very long for a governor, which I once was, to come to the conclusion that better schools mean better jobs and a better life.

Since no one has figured out how to pass a better parents law, it doesn’t take long to realize how important a great teacher is.

I certainly came to that conclusion quickly in 1984, when I was governor of Tennessee and I considered the holy grail of K-12 education to be finding a fair way to encourage and reward outstanding teaching.

I spent a year and a half, devoting 70 percent of my time, persuading the legislature to establish a career ladder—a master teacher program that 10,000 teachers voluntarily climbed. They were paid more and had the opportunity for 10- and 11-month contracts.

Tennessee became the first state in the nation to pay teachers more for teaching well. Rarely a week goes by that a teacher doesn’t stop me and say, “Thank you for the master teacher program.”

It was not easy. A year before I’d been in a meeting of southern governors and one of them said, “Who’s gonna be brave enough to take on the teachers union?”

I had a year and a half brawl with the National Education Association before I could pass our teacher evaluation program.

Since then, there’s been an explosion of efforts to answer these questions a great number of states and school districts are tackling: How do we determine who is an effective teacher? How do we relate student achievement to teacher effectiveness? And, having decided that, how do we reward and support outstanding teaching so we don’t lose our best teachers?

In 1987, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards began to strengthen standards in teaching and professionalize the teaching workforce. To date, more than 110,000 teachers in all 50 states and DC have achieved National Board Certification.

In 2006, the Teacher Incentive Fund was created to help states and districts create performance-based compensation system for teachers based on evaluation results.

According to the National Center on Teacher Quality, in 2014:

  • 27 states required annual evaluations for all teachers
  • 44 states required annual evaluations for new teachers
  • 35 states required student achievement and/or student growth to be a significant or the most significant measure of teacher performance.

So when I came to Washington as a United States Senator in 2003, everyone expected—since I thought rewarding outstanding teaching was the Holy Grail—that I would make everyone do it. To the surprise of some, my answer was no—you can’t do it from Washington. Nevertheless, over the last 10 years, Washington has tried.

Here is how: No Child Left Behind told states that all teachers of core academic subjects needed to be “Highly Qualified” by 2006, and it prescribed that definition in a very bureaucratic manner. That hasn’t worked. I don’t know of many people who really want to keep that outdated definition—even Secretary Duncan waived the requirements related to highly qualified teachers when he granted waivers to 43 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, the Secretary replaced those requirements with a new mandate requiring teacher evaluation systems—first in Race to the Top, which gave nearly $4.4 billion to states, and second, in the waivers.

To get a waiver from No Child Left Behind, a state and each local school district must develop a teacher and principal evaluation system with seven required elements—such as that it will use at least three performance levels; and will use multiple measures, including student growth; and will include guidelines and supports for implementation—and each element must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

The problem is that, after 30 years, we are still figuring out how to do this.

Our research work on measuring growth in student achievement and relating it fairly to teacher effectiveness was started in 1984, but former Institute of Education Science Director Russ Whitehurst told the New York Times in 2012 that states “are racing ahead based on promises made to Washington or local political imperatives that prioritize an unwavering commitment to unproven approaches. There’s a lot we don’t know about how to evaluate teachers reliably and how to use that information to improve instruction and learning.”

The second problem is that some states haven’t been willing or able to implement the systems the way the U.S. Department of Education wants them to.

California, Iowa, and Washington state had their waiver requests denied or revoked over the issue of teacher evaluations.

In Iowa’s case, it was because the state legislature wouldn’t pass a law that satisfied the requirement that allowed for teachers and principals to be placed into at least three performance levels – not effective, effective, and highly effective.

California simply ignored the Administration’s conditions when they applied for a waiver, particularly the requirement that teacher evaluation systems be based significantly on the results of state standardized tests.

In April, Washington state’s waiver was revoked by Secretary Duncan because their state legislature would not pass legislation requiring standardized test results to be used in teacher and principal evaluation systems—instead the law in Washington allows local school districts to decide which tests they use.

Whether or not this federal interference with state education law offends your sense of federalism, like it does mine, it has proved impractical.

The federal government in its well-intentioned way, trying to say, “We want better teachers, and we’re going to tell you exactly how to do it, and you must do it now” has created an enormous backlash. It’s made even harder something that was already hard.

Even in Tennessee, despite 30 years of experience and nearly $500 million in Race to the Top funding, the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system has been described in an article in my hometown newspaper as “contentious.”

Given all of the great progress that states and local school districts have made on standards, accountability, tests, and teacher evaluation over the last 30 years—you’ll get a lot more progress with a lot less opposition if you leave those decisions there.

I think we should return to states and local school districts decisions for measuring the progress of our schools and for evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of teachers.

I know it is tempting to try to improve teachers from Washington. I also hear from governors and school superintendents who say that if “Washington doesn’t make us do it, the teachers unions and opponents from the right will make it impossible to have good evaluation systems and better teachers.”

And I understand what they’re saying. After I left office, the NEA watered down Tennessee’s Master Teacher program.

Nevertheless, the Chairman’s Staff Discussion draft eliminates the Highly Qualified Teacher requirements and definition, and allows states to decide the licenses and credentials that they are going to require their teachers to have.

And despite my personal support for teacher evaluation, the draft doesn’t mandate teacher and principal evaluations.

Rather, it enables States to use the more than $2.5 billion under Title II to develop, implement, or improve these evaluation systems.

In a state like Tennessee, that would mean $39 million potentially available for continuing the work Tennessee has well underway for evaluating teachers, including linking performance and student achievement.

In addition, it would expand one of the provisions in No Child Left behind – the Teacher Incentive Fund that Secretary Spellings recommended putting into law and that Secretary Duncan said, in testimony before the HELP Committee in January 2009, was “One of the best things I think Secretary Spellings’ has done…the more we can reward excellence, the more we can incentivize excellence, the more we can get our best teachers to work in those hard-to-staff schools and communities, the better our students are going to do.”

And third, it would emphasize the idea of a Secretary’s report card—calling considerable attention to the bully pulpit a secretary or president has to call attention to states that are succeeding or failing.

For example, I remember President Reagan visited Farragut High School in Knoxville in 1984 to call attention to our Master Teacher program. It caused the Democratic speaker of our House of Representatives to say, “This is the American way,” and come up with an amendment to my proposal that was critical to its passage. President Reagan didn’t order every other state to do what Tennessee was doing, but the president’s bully pulpit made a real difference.

Thomas Friedman recently told a group of senators that one of his two rules of life is that he’s never met anyone who washed a rented car.

In other words, people take care of what they own.

My experience is that finding a way to fairly reward better teaching is the holy grail of K-12 education—but Washington will get the best long-term result by creating an environment in which states and communities are encouraged, not ordered, to evaluate teachers.

Let’s not mandate it from Washington if we want them to own it and make it work.


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Press Releases

Alexander Prods Senate to Join House in Voting to Re-establish the 40 Hour Work Week

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; January 22, 2015:

Says Obamacare’s Definition of Full-time as 30 Hours is Causing Thousands of Low-wage Workers to Lose Hours and Income

 Washington, D.C., January 22 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate health committee, today said the Senate should change the Obamacare definition of full-time from 30 hours to 40 and give “as many as 2.6 million workers a pay raise.”

“Many businesses can’t afford Obamacare’s mandate and must reduce their number of full-time employees. The result of all this is that thousands of workers are getting a pay cut. Their work schedules are being reduced to 29 hours a week and below. This is not enough money for these workers to earn a living.”

Alexander’s full prepared remarks are below:

Let me start by telling some stories of what’s happening in Tennessee:

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State University has started limiting hours for part-time workers. This means students can no longer accept multiple on-campus work assignments. And graduate assistants might have to wait tables instead of picking up extra on-campus grant-funded research projects that would better further their careers.

From its headquarters in Knoxville, Regal Entertainment Group, the nation’s largest movie theatre chain, announced last year that it was cutting employee hours from 40 to below 30 in order to comply with Obamacare. According to a news report, “One Regal theatre manager [said] the move has sparked a wave of resignations from full-time managers who have seen their hours cut by 25 percent or more.”

 In Johnson City, Pam Cox, the director of finance for Johnson City Public Schools, told a local news outlet about a year ago that her district will have to hire more people to work fewer hours. She said, “It’ll be challenging to find people and it’ll also hurt the employees because where they’ve been able to work as much as they wanted in these types of positions with no benefits attached to it now we’re going to be saying, ‘we can’t let you work…even though you want to and you’re good at your job, we can’t give you the hours, give you the pay, because we can’t afford to give you the insurance.”

 So why are these things happening in Tennessee—and in every other state across the nation?

Obamacare requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to provide health insurance to those employees or pay a penalty at tax time. That penalty is $2,000 for each employee whom the government says should have been covered by an employer plan and $3,000 for every employee who receives a subsidy in the exchange.

The law, passed without any Republican support, defined full-time as an employee who works more than 30 hours a week. It is a strange definition—one that sounds more like France than the United States.

 The average American between the ages of 25-49 works 8.8 hours per day, or 44 hours per week, according to the American Time of Use Survey published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Obamacare definition of full-time is nearly one-third lower.

 Many businesses can’t afford Obamacare’s mandate and must reduce their number of full-time employees.

 The result of all this is that thousands of workers are getting a pay cut. Their work schedules are being reduced to 29 hours a week and below.

 This is not enough money for these workers to earn a living. Many must take second jobs.

A Hoover Institution study found the 30-hour definition puts 2.6 million working-age Americans with a median income under $14,333 for individuals and $30,000 for families at risk of losing jobs and hours. The study found:

89 percent of those affected don’t have a college degree

60 percent are between the ages of 19 and 34

63 percent of those most at risk of lost hours are women, of which half have a high school diploma or less.

These are Americans who are often working one of their first jobs, trying to work their way up the economic ladder. You have to start with a lower-paying job, a job that doesn’t require as many skills, and hope that someday your hard work will lead to a higher-paying one.

Many of these Americans are working in service industries, such as hospitality, retail and restaurants. But the Obamacare provision is affecting all kinds of employers.

In September 2014, Investor’s Business Daily reported that at least 451 employers, county governments, public schools, community colleges and universities across the country have laid off staff or reduced employee work hours to comply with the new Obamacare definition of full time.

Our public schools can’t charge higher prices to cover these mandates. They have to cut services like special education, coaches and bus drivers.

Three surveys published by Federal Reserve Banks in August found employers are increasing their proportion of part-time workers.

The Federal Reserve Banks of New York and Philadelphia specifically asked manufacturers what changes they had made because of Obamacare, and in both cities, nearly 1 in 5 respondents reported that they had increased their proportion of part-time workers.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta also surveyed businesses about changes in part-time employment and found that 25 percent of respondents currently have a higher share of part-time workers primarily because “full-time employee compensation costs have increased relative to those of part time employees.” More troubling is that 31 percent of respondents believe they will have more part-time workers 2 years from now.

There is bipartisan support for repealing this provision. This bill has 34 cosponsors—mostly Republicans, including every Republican member of this committee—but Senator Donnelly and Senator Manchin of West Virginia, also a Democrat, support it.

Republicans have talked a lot about wanting to repair the damage of Obamacare. We have also talked about wanting to get results.

This bipartisan bill should be an important step to doing both.

In fact, this reminds me of why so many of us like being on this committee—because the issues we work on affect so many Americans.

When we talk about fixing No Child Left Behind, we’re talking about 50 million children in 100,000 public schools.

When we talk about making it simpler to apply for a Pell Grant to go to college, we’re talking about simplifying a form that 20 million families fill out each year.

When we talk about modernizing the Food and Drug Administration and making it easier for Americans to access lifesaving drugs, we’re talking about something that affects nearly every American.

But today we are focused on 2.6 million Americans who are mostly low-income and at risk of losing jobs and hours.

I look forward to hearing what our witnesses have to say.

Featured Health Care NewsTracker

Alexander Makes First Move to Repeal Individual Mandate

Lamar Alexander has filed a bill to repeal the portions of President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation that require all Americans purchase health insurance or pay a fine.

Tennessee’s senior U.S. senator, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, joined Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and 20 other Republican senators in filing the “American Liberty Restoration Act” on Wednesday.

In a press release, Alexander questioned how the federal government can “continue to enforce the individual mandate” when “the law doesn’t clearly ensure that millions of Americans are allowed to receive subsidies to help cover the cost.” He added that the ACA “outlaws plans that fit family budgets.”

“Millions more Americans are in for sticker shock when they see how much they owe the IRS in April because of Obamacare. We need to focus on making health care plans affordable to Americans,” Alexander said in the release.

For 2014, the first tax year affected by the individual mandate, individuals without health insurance will have to pay a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their income — whichever is more. In 2015, the fine will go up to $325 or 2 percent of their income.

In his State of the Union speech this week, Obama appeared to double-down on statements made in the wake of the Republican takeover of the Senate in November when he vowed to veto any attempt to undo key pillars of the Affordable Care Act.

“We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto,” Obama said Tuesday night.

Back in November, the president told reporters he would “draw some lines” when it came to future legislation dealing with Obamacare passed by the GOP-controlled Congress. He said he would not sign a repeal of the law or support any other “efforts that would take away health care from the 10 million people who now have it and the millions more who are eligible to get it.”

“In some cases there may be recommendations that Republicans have for changes that would undermine the structure of the law, and I’ll be very honest with them about that and say, look, the law doesn’t work if you pull out that piece or that piece,” he said.

One of the areas of the law Obama vowed to stand firm on was the mandate that all Americans purchase health insurance. While the president said he understood that even with provided federal subsidies some Americans may still not be able to afford their insurance, the mandate is “a central component of the law.”

“The individual mandate is a line I can’t cross because the concept, borrowed from Massachusetts, from a law instituted by a former opponent of mine, Mitt Romney, understood that if you’re providing health insurance to people through the private marketplace, then you’ve got to make sure that people can’t game the system and just wait until they get sick before they go try to buy health insurance,” Obama said in November.

The concept of the individual mandate was first discussed in the late 1980s by conservative economists and pushed by Republican-leaning groups — including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. It was supported by GOP congressmen in the early 1990s as “a less dangerous future than what Hillary [Clinton] was trying to do [with ‘Hillarycare’],” said former U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich in December 2011.

The mandate was in part conceived of in response to the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which required any hospital accepting Medicare funding to provide emergency care for anyone in need, regardless of ability to pay. Thus were created concerns of a “free-rider” problem in which medical-industry experts and economists worried people would intentionally go without insurance, knowing that a hospital had to provide them free care.

But just as conservatives haven’t always opposed the individual-mandate concept, liberals haven’t always been on board with it.

As recently as 2008, Obama criticized Hillary Clinton over her support of the mandate. “If things were that easy, I could mandate everybody to buy a house, and that would solve the problem of homelessness. It doesn’t,” he said at the time.

In 2011, Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill passed by the Tennessee Legislature in response to the ACA which declared Tennesseans should “be free to choose or to decline to choose any mode of securing health care services without penalty or threat of penalty.”

The General Assembly will convene an “extraordinary session” of the legislature on Feb. 2, to discuss Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” proposal to expand health insurance coverage for low-income Tennesseans.  Next Tuesday, Jan. 27, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on “the legal issues raised by the governor’s proposed Obamacare Medicaid expansion plan.”

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also filed legislation earlier this month to prevent the IRS from assessing any fines on Tennesseans who haven’t signed up for health insurance. The bill would also prevent the state from operating any healthcare exchange.

Press Releases

Alexander Introduces Legislation to Repeal Individual Mandate

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; January 21, 2015:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 – Today, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), along with 20 other senators, introduced the American Liberty Restoration Act, S. 203, a bill that repeals Obamacare’s individual insurance mandate.

“Forcing Americans to purchase insurance goes against our nation’s history of individual liberty. This legislation strikes Obamacare’s individual mandate and restores the freedoms outlined in the Constitution.  Washington should continue to work towards finding a way to equip patients with the tools needed to obtain access to health insurance, but not in a way that attacks the spirit of the Constitution and our treasured history of limited government,” said Hatch.

“How can we continue to enforce the individual mandate when the law doesn’t clearly ensure that millions of Americans are allowed to receive subsidies to help cover the cost? How can we enforce it when Obamacare outlaws plans that fit family budgets?  Millions more Americans are in for sticker shock when they see how much they owe the IRS in April because of Obamacare. We need to focus on making health care plans affordable to Americans,” said Alexander.

The American Liberty Restoration Act would strike provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requiring individuals to purchase health insurance.  The individual insurance mandate in PPACA went into effect in 2014.

For the 2014 tax filing season, individuals who did not purchase health insurance will face a fine of $95 or 1% of their income, whichever is more.  For the 2015 tax filing season, that penalty will increase to $325 or 2% of their income, whichever is more.

Cosponsors of the bill include: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)


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Press Releases

Alexander Hold First Hearing on NCLB Reauthorization

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; January 21, 2015:

Holds First Hearing as Chairman on Federal Requirement that States Administer 17 Standardized Tests Each Year — “the Center of the Debate” on No Child Left Behind

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 21 –U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today gaveled in his first hearing as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, calling for the committee to pass a bipartisan bill to Fix No Child Left Behind by the end of February.

“Almost everyone seems to agree that it’s time to fix No Child Left Behind—it’s more than 7 years overdue.  We’ve been working on it for more than 6 years, we’ve had 24 hearings, and in each of the last two Congresses we’ve reported bills out of committee. Twenty of 22 senators on this committee were members in the last congress, and 16 of these 22 were here in the previous congress.”

Regarding today’s hearing on testing and accountability, Alexander said: “At the center of the debate about how to fix No Child Left Behind is what to do about the federal requirement that states annually administer 17 standardized tests with high-stakes consequences. Educators call this an accountability system. Are there too many tests? Are they the right tests? Are the stakes for failing them too high? What should Washington, D.C. have to do with all this?”

Alexander’s full remarks are below:

Since this is the first hearing of the committee in this 114th Congress, I have some preliminary remarks.

This committee touches almost every American.

No committee is more ideologically diverse and none is more productive. In the last Congress, 25 bills passed out of this committee became laws.

That’s because we worked with Chairman Harkin on areas of agreement.

I look forward to working in the same way with Ranking Member Murray in this Congress. She is direct, well-respected, she cares about people and is results-oriented.

We are going to have an open process, which means we’re going to have a full opportunity for discussion and for amendments.  Not just in the committee, but on the floor. In the last two congresses, we reported a bill, but it didn’t make it to the floor.

This congress, we hope to  have a bipartisan bill coming out of committee—but even if we don’t, the bill will go to the floor and it will have to get 60 votes on the floor, 60 votes to go to conference, 60 votes to get out of conference, and then the president will have his say. We hope to get his signature and get a result.

Next, the schedule:

Let me start with some unfinished business:

Fixing NCLB: This is way overdue, it expired more than 7 years ago.   We posted a working draft on the website last week, already feedback is coming in—not just from Congress but from around the country.   We have several more weeks of hearings and meetings.  We hope to have a bill ready for floor by end of February.   The House expects to have its bill on the floor by the end of February.

Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: This is, for me, about deregulating higher education making rules simpler and more effective.  Also, finishing the work we did on student loans in the last congress.   Our first hearing on the deregulation task force formed by Senators Mikulski, Burr, and Bennet and me is on Tuesday, February 24.

As rapidly and responsibly as we can, we want to repair the damage of Obamacare and provide more Americans with health insurance that fits their budgets. Our first hearing is tomorrow on the 30to 40 hour workweek–the bill introduced by Senators Collins, Donnelly, Murkowski and Manchin. We will report our opinions to the Finance committee.

Then, some new business:

Let’s call it 21st Century Cures—that’s what the House calls it, as it finishes its work this spring. The president is also interested. What we’re talking about is getting to market more rapidly, while still safe, medicines, treatments and medical devices. There is a lot of interest in this and we’ll start staff working groups soon.

There will be more in labor, pensions, education, health but those are major priorities and that is how we start.

The president has also made major proposals on early childhood education and community college. These are certainly relevant to K-12, but we’ve always dealt with them separately. It’s difficult for me to see how we make these issues part of this reauthorization.

Now to today’s hearing: Last week Secretary Duncan called for law to be fixed.

Almost everyone seems to agree with that—it’s more than 7 years overdue.

We’ve been working on it for more than 6 years. When we started, former Rep. George Miller said, Pass a lean bill to fix No Child Left Behind, and we identified a small number of problems.

Since then, we’ve had 24 hearings, and in each of the last two Congresses we’ve reported bills out of committee.

Senators should know issues by now, 20 of 22 were here in the last congress, 16 of 22 were here in the previous congress.

One reason it needs to be fixed is that NCLB has become unworkable.

Under its original provisions, almost all of America’s 100,000 public schools would be labeled a “failing school.”

To avoid this unintended result, the U. S. Secretary of Education has granted waivers from the law’s provisions to 43 states—including Washington, which has since had its waiver revoked—as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

This has created a second unintended result, at least unintended by Congress, which stated in law that no federal official should “exercise any direction, supervision or control over curriculum, program or instruction or administration of any educational institution.”

Nevertheless, in exchange for the waivers, the Secretary has told states what their academic standards should be, how states should measure the progress of students toward those standards, what constitutes failure for schools and what the consequences of failure are, how to fix low-performing schools, and how to evaluate teachers.  The Department has become, in effect, a national school board.   Or, as one teacher told me, it has become a national Human Resources Department for 100,000 public schools.

At the center of the debate about how to fix No Child Left Behind is what to do about the federal requirement that states annually administer 17 standardized tests with high-stakes consequences.  Educators call this an accountability system.

Are there too many tests? Are they the right tests?     Are the stakes for failing them too high? What should Washington, D.C. have to do with all this?

Many states and school districts require schools to administer additional tests.

This is called a hearing for a reason. I have come to listen.

The Chairman’s staff discussion draft I have circulated includes two options on testing:

  • Option 1 gives flexibility to the states to decide what to do on testing
  • Option 2 maintains current law testing requirements

Both options would continue to require annual reporting of student achievement, disaggregated by subgroups of children.

Washington sometimes forgets—but governors never do—that the federal government has limited involvement in elementary and secondary education, contributing only 10 percent of the money that public schools receive.

For 30 years the real action has been in the states.

I have seen this first hand.

I was Governor in 1983 when President Reagan’s Education Secretary, Terrell Bell, issued a report called:  “A Nation at Risk,” which said that: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

The next year Tennessee became the first state to pay teachers more for teaching well.

In 1985 and 1986, every Governor spent an entire year focused on improving schools ?? the first time in the history of the National Governors Association that it happened.  I was chairman of the association that year and the Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, was the vice chairman.

In 1989, the first President Bush held a national meeting of Governors in Charlottesville, Virginia, and established national education goals.

Then in 1991?1992, President Bush announced America 2000 to help move the nation voluntarily  toward those goals, state by state, community by community.  I was the Education Secretary at that time.

Since then states have worked together voluntarily to develop academic standards, develop tests, to create their own accountability systems, find fair  ways to evaluate  teacher performance—and then adopted those that fit their states.

I know members of this committee must be tired of hearing me talk until I am blue in the face about a “national school board.”  I know it is tempting to try to fix classrooms from Washington. I also hear from governors and school superintendents who say that if “Washington doesn’t make us do it, the teachers unions and opponents from the right will make it impossible to have higher standards and better teachers.”

And I understand that there can be short term gains from Washington’s orders– but my experience is that long term success can’t come that way.   In fact, today Washington’s involvement, in effect mandating Common Core and teacher evaluation, is creating a backlash, making it harder for states to set higher standards and evaluate teaching.

As one former Democratic governor told me recently, “We were doing pretty well until Washington got involved. If they will get out of the way we can get back on track.”

So rather than turn blue in the face one more time about the national school board let me conclude with the remarks of Carol Burris, New York’s High School principal of the Year.   She responded last week to our committee working draft this way:

. . .I ask that your committee remember that the American public school system was built on the belief that local  communities cherish their children and have the right and responsibility, within sensible limits, to determine how they are schooled.

While the federal government has a very special role in ensuring that our students do not experience discrimination based on who they are or what their disability might be, Congress is not a National School Board.

Although our locally elected school boards may not be perfect, they represent one of the purest forms of democracy that we have. Bad ideas in the small do damage in the small and are easily corrected.   Bad ideas at the federal level result in massive failure and are harder to fix.

Please understand that I do not dismiss the need to hold schools accountable.   The use and disaggregation of data has been an important tool that I use regularly as a principal to improve my own school.  However, the unintended, negative consequences that have arisen from mandated, annual testing and its high stakes uses have proven testing not only to be an ineffective tool, but a destructive one as well.

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