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Merkley praises new Every Student Succeeds Act

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., told a crowd gathered in Gold Hill this morning that the new Every Student Succeeds Act gets rid of the "shame and blame” accountability method of its predecessor.

The comprehensive legislation, passed by the Senate last month, replaces “the terribly flawed” No Child Left Behind Act, he told nearly 100 Gold Hill, Shady Cove and Eagle Point residents gathered at Hanby Middle School.

“It gives more flexibility to states” in overhauling controversial testing mandates, he said.

Merkley said the bill provides increased resources for science, technology, engineering and math and Career and Technical Education, two components he pushed for, he said.

Hanby seventh- and eighth-grade leadership students peppered the senator with their prepared questions. Eighth-grader Hannah Joseph pressed Merkley for solutions to assist students “geared for college and career readiness but priced out of the possibility” of higher education because of exorbitant tuition costs.

"This issue is near and dear to my heart as I was the first in my family to attend college,” Merkley said. But inflation has “dealt a heavy blow to others’ college dreams.”

Merkley noted recent legislation that he and his colleague, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, introduced to make college more affordable for students and families.

The PARTNERSHIPS Act, he said, would encourage states to hold down college tuition costs by creating a program that provides federal matching funds for states that agree to end tuition growth at their public colleges and universities.

Student Jacob Hilton asked how Merkley would ensure “a well-rounded” education for students that includes art, music and shop classes.

Merkley said he and other legislators are pushing for “STEAM,” an initiative that adds arts to the STEM model.

Merkley also highlighted other key pieces of legislation, one that boosts wildfire funding and another that pumps funds into an eroding infrastructure.

Sparked by back-to-back years of devastating fires in Oregon, the wildfire bill directly funds firefighting at 100 percent of the 10-year average of firefighting costs. Additionally, it contains nearly $600 million in rollover reserve funds that can be used in the event of a catastrophic fire season, which will reduce the severity of borrowing by the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act was the first long-term transportation funding bill passed by Congress in more than a decade.

The federal transportation bill will reap benefits for Oregon, Merkley said, adding that infrastructure is woefully underfunded here and that there has not been a “major project in Oregon since the Eisenhower era.”

“This is much-needed investment in improving our roads, bridges and transit systems,” he said.

Audience members quizzed Merkley on his thoughts about continued U.S. involvement in the Middle East — “We do not need to be drawn into a 1,400-year-old civil war with troops on the ground” — and on climate change — “We need to get involved on the local community level all the way to the state and federal levels to meet a global challenge that will test humanity.”

Merkley encouraged the crowd to take advantage of the public comment phase currently underway about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement. In the past, he has gone on record raising concerns how new trade policies might affect jobs and wages in the U.S. Any trade agreement, he believes, should provide "well-paying American jobs." (Paragraph corrected from previous version.)

Merkley listened to opposition of the proposed Pacific Connection natural gas pipeline stretching 232 miles from Malin to an export terminal at Coos Bay.

Merkley, who said he supports Coos Bay’s efforts to locate the terminal on the north spit of lower Coos Bay, said he also shares the audience’s concerns about protecting wilderness and private property.

“Coos Bay has a right to present their case,” he said, adding that there is still “an arduous journey through the permit process.”

He also stressed that he adamantly rejects any efforts by Pacific Connector Pipeline or Jordan Cove LNG to acquire private property through eminent domain.

Also at the town hall, Merkley congratulated Gold Hill’s community development organization, Can-Do. Citing Can-Do’s commitment to developing “a strong, vital community,” he presented its president, Eric Hodderson, with a certificate of appreciation and an American flag that has flown at the nation’s Capitol.

Reach Grants Pass freelancer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

Sen. Jeff Merkley