Time to get to work, Congress

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 9, 2015

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

If you listen to national media outlets, all you ever hear is how Congress is completely broken and dysfunctional. While that narrative is right at times, last week was a bright spot when it comes to working together and passing long-overdue reforms.

The House and the Senate earlier this year each passed separate bills to set policy for our nation’s K-12 education system and to fund our highway system, respectively. Since different bills were passed, Conference Committees made up of both House and Senate members were formed to work out the differences.

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Well last week, these Conference Committees each reached consensus and put forward two conservative, reform-focused bills that were long overdue. Let’s first look at the education bill.

As you may know, for the last decade, our education system has been governed by a law known as No Child Left Behind. While it was written with good intentions, this law put heavy mandates and requirements on our local schools. Our education system has struggled under this heavy, top-down approach.

As a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, I have long advocated for getting the federal government out of our local schools. I want to see local teachers, parents, and administrators given more control. That’s exactly what we accomplished last week when we passed the Every Student Succeeds Act.

This bill gets Washington bureaucrats out of the way and empowers local teachers, principals, and administrators. The legislation achieves these goals by reducing the federal government’s role in education and restoring control back to the states and local school districts – where it belongs.

I hear a lot from parents in Southwest Alabama who are concerned about the Common Core standards. The Every Student Succeeds Act actually includes strong language prohibiting the federal Secretary of Education from influencing or coercing states into adopting Common Core. It makes clear that it is solely a state’s responsibility to set academic standards and assessments. This is a huge win for educators and students.

The bill also repeals the one-size-fits-all federal accountability system known as “Adequate Yearly Progress” and allows states and school districts to set their own academic standards and testing requirements. Without these reforms, we would continue to allow the Obama Administration and the federal government to dictate education policy to the states.

The Every Student Succeeds Act passed the House with broad bipartisan support, and the President is expected to sign the bill.

The second major accomplishment last week was on a long-term highway bill. The bill, known as the FAST Act, represents the first highway bill lasting longer than two years since 2005.

For over two years now I have called for a new, long-term highway bill so we could move forward with important highway projects in Southwest Alabama like building the I-10 bridge, improving Highway 98 in north Mobile County, and four laning Highway 45 in Washington County.

The fiscally-responsible highway bill is fully paid for and rejects Democrats’ efforts to raise the gas tax. The bill also includes a new program for Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects, which can likely be used to help pay for the I-10 bridge project.

The highway bill passed the House by a vote of 359 to 65 and the Senate by a vote of 83 to 16. Just like the education bill, the highway bill was a great example of Republicans and Democrats working together in a bipartisan way.

Many serious issues still require urgent action, but I think it is important to realize that Congress is making progress on important national priorities like strengthening our education system and improving our nation’s highway system.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.