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What’s next for ESEA?

capitol buildingThe Every Child Achieves Act passes the Senate; the Student Success Act passes the House

Thank you to all our members who called or wrote their elected leaders over the course of the past few weeks. On July 16, 2015, the United States Senate passed S. 1777, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), by a vote of 81-17. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, on July 8, 2015, by a vote of 218-213. The passage of these bills is a huge step forward because similar bills have failed to pass the last few years.

Conferees from the Senate and House will be selected and meet in conference to hammer out differences. If they craft a compromise bill, they will present it to President Obama, who will either sign or veto the bill. Until the President signs a new bill, the provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act remain in place.

So we are not finished with our advocacy to craft education policy that will serve our students best. And it will be critical in the next month or so to continue to push legislators to understand the important role the federal government can play in striving for equity in schools across the country – something that both the House and the Senate versions of the bills challenge.

The best news from a 2015 NCTE Education Policy Platform perspective is that the LEARN Act was included in the Senate bill. NCTE has been working on this act for years and it addresses our support for comprehensive literacy education. Also, the proposal for Title I portability of funds to follow low-income students to private or parochial schools was defeated. Our platform was very clear: Title I funding should focus “on districts with the greatest percentage of students who lack economic opportunities.” Our emphasis on equity to “provide for the successful participation of students with the greatest needs” was exemplified in the passage of amendments that amended state report cards to include homeless children and children in foster care (SA #2169) and assistive technology for students with disabilities (SA #2131)

Our platform also declared that “assessment should employ multiple measures, focus on growth, and be appropriate for specific learning situations.” In his remarks following the passage of the bill, Chairman Alexander noted that the ECAA provides the flexibility to allow states to use multiple measures – but it remains to be seen whether this flexibility will support equity measures that NCTE considers important.

Admittedly, some items that we supported were defeated. Senator Jack Reed’s (D-RI) amendment (SA #2161) on resource equity to require states to report on access to critical educational resources was defeated by a vote of 45-50. It required 60 votes to survive. Senator Reed had originally filed this as S. 37, the Core Opportunity Resources for Excellence and Equity Act of 2015, or CORE Act.  His staff explained to NCTE that they will continue to push the bill forward to strengthen resource equity accountability. The Obama administration has stated that accountability for student achievement and resource equity need improvement and are of critical importance, so it is likely this will have to be addressed in a bill the President would sign.

Senator Al Franken’s (D-MN) amendment (SA #2093) to end discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity was defeated by a vote of 52-45. It, too, required 60 votes to survive. According to Senator Franken’s staff, S. 439, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, is still live, and they hope it will be considered in committee. Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) chose not to introduce S. 311, the Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2015, as an amendment.  However, like Senator Reed, both Senators Franken and Casey will continue to advocate for passage of their bills. Your phone calls and letters put your senators on notice that these issues are important to you.

The passage of these bills is the start of another step in the process toward the much-needed reauthorization of ESEA, but we are far from done. We will continue to keep you informed and ask for your engagement in the weeks ahead. Your voice matters.