Groups like the National Education Association have been pushing for education reform for more than a decade. Now that the House and Senate have passed ESEA reauthorization bills, the education community finally has the finish line in its sights.
For the first time in more than a decade, both chambers of Congress have passed versions of a reauthorization bill for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the federal law that provides funding and educational guidance to public primary and secondary schools nationwide. The last time that happened, in 2001, a little thing called No Child Left Behind (NCLB) went into effect.
The path to this moment, however, was varied. The House version of the bill, which reportedly includes more dramatic overhauls, was yanked from the floor mid-debate in February after receiving little support, and the rewrite of ESEA narrowly passed by a 218-213 vote earlier this month. Meanwhile, the Senate bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act, received bipartisan support and passed easily 81-17.
House and Senate leaders will now meet in conference to hash out the differences between the bills before sending it to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
“Every student in America will be better off under this legislation than the generation of students wronged by ‘No Child Left Untested,’” National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement after the Senate vote. “This bill reflects a paradigm shift away from the one-size-fits-all assessments that educators know hurt students, diminish learning, narrow the curriculum, and that they fought to change.”
The NCLB rewrite includes a number of overhauls that the education community considered crucial. Among the changes: a recognition that states have the responsibility for creating teacher-accountability systems that work for them, the removal of the federal test-based accountability system that was a cornerstone of NCLB, and the inclusion of federal grants designed to help the lowest-performing schools.
NEA was joined by a host of other education associations that applauded the Senate vote. In a letter [PDF] to leaders from both chambers, 10 groups collectively urged them to build on the momentum around ESEA reauthorization as they head into conference.
“We are now closer than we have been in the last eight years to producing a new law as both Houses of Congress have passed ESEA reauthorization proposals,” the letter stated. “This bill is long overdue, and we do not have a moment to waste.”
NEA Director of Government Relations Mary Kusley acknowledged the importance of the moment but said more work needs to be done.
“We are hopeful that further improvements will be made to address equal educational opportunities for students,” she said in a statement. “Our goal remains a final ESEA reauthorization that truly promotes opportunity, equity, and excellence for all students.”