U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray Earn NEA’s Highest Honor

NEA Friend of Education Award Winners Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Lamar Alexander

Friend of Education award recognizes bipartisan collaboration to pass Every Student Succeeds Act

In the midst of one of the most politically gridlocked eras in Washington, D.C., two U.S. senators from opposite sides of the political aisle set aside their differences to successfully champion the passage of a federal education law that touches millions of students, educators, and tens of thousands of public schools. The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) marked the end of No Child Left Behind and the beginning of a new era in public education. For their leadership and significant contributions to public education, today, the National Education Association bestowed its highest honor, the Friend of Education Award, upon Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican, and Washington Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat, before more than 7,000 educators gathered at the NEA 95th Representative Assembly in Washington.

“The hard work and bipartisan cooperation of Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray to pass ESSA will ensure that all students regardless of ZIP code will have equal opportunity to a high-quality public education for years to come,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “They were instrumental not only in the passing of the critical K-12 federal education law, but they listened, they set the tone of bipartisan cooperation, and they got the job done on behalf of the nations students and educators. Their bold leadership ushered a new chapter in public education, one in which educators have a seat at the table to make decisions that affect their students and classrooms. We are honored and grateful to call them an NEA Friend of Education.”

The Washington Post called their alliance to mesh together a working draft and find common ground on key points of the legislation the lost art of compromise. In the end, 13 years in the making, after stalling a number of times, and after some called the reauthorization effort on life support, ESSA passed by bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House. All key congressional players–Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; the committees ranking Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray; House Education and the Workforce Committee chair John Kline, and ranking member Bobby Scott–delivered a bill for President Obama to sign into law before an audience of educators, parents, and public education advocates at a White House ceremony.

“I am here to honor the classroom teachers who helped to fix No Child Left Behind,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, a chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.  “We’ve reversed the trend toward a national school board and restored responsibility for children in 100,000 public schools to states, communities and teachers. Our job last year was to pass a law. Our job this year is to make sure that the U.S. Secretary of Education implements the law the way Congress wrote it. So tell the Secretary: ‘no more national school board, no more ‘Mother, May I?’ waivers, and no more Washington mandates telling us exactly how to evaluate teachers and whether schools are succeeding or failing. The path to better schools is through decisions by those closest to our children, not through a distant department in Washington, D.C.”

“It’s an honor to receive the Friend of Education Award and to recognize all the incredible teachers and paraeducators that make up the National Education Association,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray, the committees ranking Democrat. “As leaders in our classrooms, schools, and communitiesyou make up the heart and soul of education in America. Thats why I worked so hard to make sure your voices were heard as ESSA was written and its why I am fighting to keep you in the room as the law is implemented. I look forward to continuing to work together so that every child in our nation has the opportunity to succeedregardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.”

The RA is the top decision-making body for the nearly 3 million-member NEA, and sets policy for the coming year, as well as adopt the strategic plan and budget, resolutions, the legislative program, and other policies of the Association. The NEA RA is the worlds largest democratic deliberative body.

The Friend of Education Award, presented each year during NEAs Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly, recognizes a person or organization whose leadership, acts or support significantly have contributed to the improvement of American public education. Previous award recipients include PBS, Nobel-prize winning Malala Yousafzai; economist Paul Krugman; education policy writer and researcher Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond; U.S. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., and William Jefferson Clinton; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley; U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California), Sen. Patty Murray, and U.S. Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy (D-Massachusetts).

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