The following is a guest post from U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). Murray serves as the Ranking Member on the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and has been working with HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind.
As we work in Congress to fix the broken No Child Left Behind law, I have been guided by the principle that every child deserves the opportunity to receive a quality public education, regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make. Literacy is the foundation for all education, so I believe children in every state deserve to have access to high quality literacy education that will give them the reading and writing skills they need to succeed in school and later in life.
Unfortunately, too many students at every level of our education system do not have the reading skills they need to achieve. Today, The Alliance for Excellent Education released a new paper, The Next Chapter: Supporting Literacy Within ESEA, showing that more than half of fourth and eighth graders struggle with reading. These numbers are staggering, and they rise even higher when it comes to some of our most vulnerable students. When students don’t gain these critical skills in their earlier years, it becomes harder and harder for them to catch up.
This is unacceptable and it is why I have been working to address these challenges. Throughout my time in the Senate, I have worked with teachers, school leaders, parents, and students to learn more about comprehensive literacy instruction and what we can do to improve it. In 2009, I introduced the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation, or LEARN Act. This bill would provide schools and states with the resources they need to make sure that children from birth to grade twelve have the reading and writing skills they need to graduate from high school prepared for success in college and 21st century careers.
In the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), the bipartisan legislation I worked on with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), to fix No Child Left Behind, I fought to include critical provisions of the LEARN Act, including dedicated funding for comprehensive literacy programs. These programs will provide support to hardworking teachers and other professionals so that they can improve literacy instruction and programming for our most vulnerable students. I was proud when ECAA passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, and I am going to continue to support programs that will improve the literacy of all students as this legislation moves forward.
When all students have access to a high-quality education, it will strengthen our future workforce and economy, and it will help grow a middle class that works for all families, not just the wealthiest few. Literacy education is fundamental to achieving that goal. It is critical to have partners like the Alliance for Excellent Education to shed light on this issue, and I look forward to continuing our efforts to ensure literacy education gets the support it deserves.
Patty Murray is Washington state’s senior U.S. Senator and serves as the Ranking Member on the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, as well as the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.