Flanked by Senate education committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander and ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, President Barack Obama signed into law on Thursday the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that was enacted in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“I want this not just because it’s good for the students themselves, the communities involved and it’s good for our economy but because it really goes to the essence of what we are about as Americans,” Obama said during a ceremony at the White House. “There is nothing more essential to living up to the ideals of this nation than to make sure every child is able to live up to their God-given potential.”
Alexander and Murray praised each other continuously on the floor of the Senate prior to the vote on the conference bill, extolling the virtues of “bipartisanship” and “compromise.”
“A Christmas miracle,” Obama said. “A bipartisan bill signing right here!”
Obama also praised outgoing U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan—who was present for the signing ceremony—for his part in laying the foundation for the new law.
“Arne has dedicated his life to the cause of education and sometimes, in the nicest possible way, he’s gotten on people’s nerves because he pushed them and prodded them,” the president said. “Had he not been as tenacious as he was, I don’t believe we would have as good a product as we have here today.”
The ESSA, which now replaces the No Child Left Behind law, codifies into federal law a preschool program as well and still mandates annual testing in grades 3 through 8 and then again in high school. School districts must also publicly report student test scores according to race, income, ethnicity, disability, and English-language usage. In addition, though Alexander claims the law stops the federal government from coercing states into using the Common Core standards, ESSA still requires the Education Secretary to approve state standards.