For education, summer is normally downtime for news. Earlier this month, however, developments in Washington provided an exception, and a positive one.
After more than a decade, both houses of Congress approved versions of legislation to reauthorize the nation’s education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The reauthorization legislation will replace the current version of ESEA, “No Child Left Behind,” and will affect accountability measures of student achievement including testing, as well as the funding of federal programs such as Title I.
To paraphrase Tom Shannon, a former executive director of the National School Boards Association, public education is a local function, a state responsibility and a national concern. The ESEA is a core document that ties together this triad of roles; how it does so can have a direct impact on our students.
More than just continuation of the business of education, the Senate’s July 16 reauthorization legislation, called the “Every Student Achieves Act” (S-1177), can be viewed as a genuine victory for local school boards and our students.
With the support of NJSBA and other state school boards associations, the National School Boards Association secured an important amendment to S-1177, which reflects its legislative goal to ensure that communities nationwide have ultimate authority over their schools. The amendment whose sponsors include Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska, a former president of that state’s association of school boards, is also designed to strengthen the relationship among local school board members and parents. Other amendments to the Senate bill would limit federal authority to create new regulations without Congressional approval, establish new policy on student privacy, and provide incentives for career-readiness indicators in state education plans.
As an organization, the New Jersey School Boards Association took an active role during the Senate’s deliberations. Many of our Legislative Committee members, along with other school board members, contacted New Jersey’s U.S. Senators, urging them to vote for S-1177 without the inclusion of proposed amendments to divert resources from public schools through vouchers, tuition tax credits or the portability of Title 1 funds. On July 16, Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker voted “yes” on S-1177. The final version does not include amendments that would divert federal funds from public schools. Neither of New Jersey’s U.S. Senators supported the potentially harmful provisions.
Not as positive is the House of Representatives rendition of ESEA reauthorization. HR-5, the “Student Success Act,” for example, would allow the portability of Title I funds. This week’s edition of Education Week termed the House and Senate versions “starkly different” in an article about the challenges facing Congressional leaders as they convene to work out differences between the two bills. Their goal is to get a final version of an ESEA reauthorization bill to the president this fall.
So our work is not done.
During the 2015-2016 fiscal year, NJSBA plans to focus strongly on federal-level education issues. The Senate’s action on July 16 is certainly a positive start toward this goal.