Think Bipartisanship is Dead? On this Education Bill, Tim Scott and Bernie Sanders are on the Same Page

When he first began dipping his toes into the world of politics, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) came to one key conclusion: Education is tricky.

“Back then, I heard from older folks who’d held public office say that fixing education was one area they just wouldn’t touch,” Alexander said to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank. “They’d tell me, ‘No way in hell I’m even going near that.’”

Cut to nearly forty years later, and Alexander appears not to have taken that advice.  If anything, he’s directly challenged it, having spent the entirety of his career championing for a stronger, more locally-controlled education system..

His logic was simple.

“Look, education is a national issue, meaning that it’s of urgent concern to the entire nation,” Alexander said, “but that does not make it a federal issue, which would be something Washington is in the best position to solve.”

“the quality of a child’s education depends mostly upon the child’s parents, the teacher and the community.  It’s very difficult to improve a child’s education from a distance.”

“My own view,” he continued, “was that the quality of a child’s education depends mostly upon the child’s parents, the teacher and the community.  It’s very difficult to improve a child’s education from a distance.”

That logic of Washington-control, however, was the driving force behind the No Child Left Behind Act, a George W. Bush-era law that many now see as the initial salvo in today’s modern assault of standardized testing overload and bureaucratic control on schools and teachers across the nation.

In short, the bill failed in many of its goals, and created numerous additional problems to boot.

But now that former-President Obama has signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bi-partisan bill for which Alexander was a sponsor, it’s clear that Alexander has the chops to get real things done.  

For a more detailed analysis of the law’s specifics, check out this primer over at the American Enterprise Institute.  But for our purposes, it’s enough to know that the act worked to roll back NCLB and the federal government’s footprint in education policy as a whole, and it gave more leeway to states in calling the shots, according to EdWeek.

The way Alexander sees it, in Washington D.C. where nothing gets done, the only bill that can pass with bipartisan support are bills that allow Washington to do less.

The moment that bill passed, Alexander said he can recall a room full of Senators of vastly different political perspectives and opinions – from Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to Rand Paul (R-KY), from Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to Tim Scott (R-SC) all voting in the affirmative for the bill.

How was it possible?

The way Alexander sees it, in Washington D.C. where nothing gets done, the only bill that can pass with bipartisan support are bills that allow Washington to do less.

“We’ve learned, especially with the Common Core debate, that Washington involvement can be counterproductive and can create a backlash to people who would probably be doing the things you want them to do if you just left them alone,” Alexander concluded.  “Ingrained in our big complicated country from its beginning has been a strong preference for local control of our schools and a strong skepticism that anyone from a great distance can improve upon those areas for our children.”

In other words, let the community take it from here – while Washington takes a break.

Evan Smith is a Staff Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @Evansmithreport.

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