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Improving the Quality of Education in our Schools

March 7, 2016
Press Release
Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01)

There are so many important ways that the federal government can help improve the quality of education in our schools. Some of these opportunities include rolling back the excessive amount of federally-mandated testing in schools, advancing the investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), modernizing student loan debt financing, and restoring more local control of education to put parents and teachers back in charge of education, and give every child a better opportunity to succeed. As the father of twin fourth grade girls, Mikayla and Arianna, this cause is especially personal.

Here are four great ways that Congress can continue this progress in 2016 and beyond:

  • Pass the Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act (H.R. 452). This legislation that I cosponsor would roll back the excessive amount of federally mandated testing in our schools, reducing testing to pre-No Child Left Behind levels; an important next step to shift the focus in our classrooms from testing to teaching to ensure our children never lose their love of learning. Challenging our students is important but we also must do everything in our power to set them up to succeed, not fail. We must pass this commonsense legislation so that our children’s education and well-being, not excessive federally mandated testing, are put first.
  • Pass the Enable More Parents to Opt-Out Without Endangering Resources (EMPOWER) Act (H.R. 2382). This bill that I cosponsor would eliminate the threat that the federal government can penalize states when the testing participation rate drops to below 95 percent in any school district. Last year, with regards to testing, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed and signed into law, which included new language that now prevents the federal government from penalizing individual school districts directly for testing opt out rates, however, the state as a whole can still be penalized, which is why we must pass the EMPOWER Act. Also last year, with regards to standards, I introduced an amendment to ESSA, The Zeldin Amendment, which is now law and allows states to opt out of Common Core Standards without losing federal funding as a result; a huge legislative victory for states seeking to withdraw from Common Core. 
  • Advancing the investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in our schools. In 2015, I helped pass the STEM Education Act of 2015 (H.R. 1020). This legislation provides federal funding to increase STEM programs in our schools. STEM is vital to the education of our youth and the future of our country in the 21st century; preparing students in our communities to pursue good paying jobs, which contribute to the growth of our economy, while increasing innovation, a necessary requirement for the United States to remain competitive in the global marketplace. I will continue to work in Congress during the upcoming appropriations process to secure additional funding for STEM.
  • Modernizing student loan debt financing by passing the Earnings Contingent Education Loans (ExCEL) Act of 2015 (H.R. 3695). This bill that I introduced in Congress would replace the current broken student loan system with an individualized loan repayment program tailored to each student's needs. Estimates show that currently 40 million Americans have student debt totaling over $1.2 trillion. Young college graduates are having difficulty securing structured loans that can help them afford to get their professional lives off the ground successfully. I will continue to push for passage of the ExCEL Act to help address the growing student debt crisis.

There’s so much more that can be done to improve the quality of education in America and we must continue to make bipartisan progress towards addressing these challenges to best advocate for our children.