Sessions holds education forum at TES

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 18, 2002

News Editor

"No child should be left behind." Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) echoed those words, spoken by President George W. Bush recently, during a visit to Troy Elementary School Thursday evening.

Sen. Sessions spoke to a small group of educators and parents in the school’s library about his Better Education For Students and Teachers Act, which passed the senate earlier this year, but failed to pass the house.

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One subject he touched on during his talk with those in attendance was his belief that a major part of federal education reform begins with reducing the regulations the federal government places on funds they provide to schools.

"We must redefine accountability," Sessions said.

Sessions said the feedback he has heard most often from educators is that the regulations placed on federal funds they receive are burdensome.

"The money they get can only be used for certain programs which may not be programs they need in their school, and they cannot use the money for things they think are important and would improve learning in their school system," he said.

Reiterating something he pointed out during his speech in May of 2001 on the senate floor, Sessions said, "Many senators have talked about accountability. It seems to me they have a misconception of what accountability actually is. They seem to think accountability is when somebody spends federal government

money precisely, exactly as written in a rule book. They think that if they spend it that way, that is accountability, even though learning has not been improved one bit."

Sessions said schools should be examined to see if their students are actually learning. He said if a student continues to fail and the school does not improve after three years, he proposes giving that student the opportunity to attend another school within that school system. He added that under the proposal, the federal government would pay the transportation costs of a child who chooses to go to another school.

"If students are continuously failing the schools must account for it," Sessions said.

As in his speech from May, Sessions praised the public school system in Alabama and its updated testing to determine if students are learning.

"Alabama is already doing what President Bush is mandating," he said. "Some say the tests in Alabama may be the most difficult in the nation. Students cannot get a degree if they do not pass the basic proficiency test and the test scores are moving up."

Sessions said the new education bill recently passed by Congress and signed by the President will allow for much of what Alabama is doing with its testing to be federally funded. He said because Alabama has more students than other states who live in poverty they will receive more money than other states (15 percent as compared to 10 percent as received by other states).

One point Sen. Sessions made before ending his forum with the audience was that instead of focusing on the negative, perhaps educators should focus on the positive aspects of education in the state. "Celebrate your achievements more," he said. "Sell the fact of your test score increases and sell the fact of your increased graduating rates and the decrease in drop-out rates. I think this will help recreate confidence in Alabama’s education system.