Reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is moving through Congress, with the House of Representatives approving HR-5, the Student Success Act, last week and the Senate continuing deliberation over its version, S.1177, the Every Child Achieves Act. Congress will have to work out differences between the two bills before sending a final version to President Obama.

When finally enacted, the reauthorization legislation will replace the current No Child Left Behind Act and will affect accountability measures of student achievement including testing, as well as the funding of federal programs, such as Title I. (The National School Boards Association developed a chart comparing the House and Senate versions of the legislation, following committee approval this spring.)

Concern over Vouchers The Senate version, S.1177, has bipartisan support. Of critical concern as the Senate deliberates over the measure is the possibility of amendments that would create vouchers, tuition tax credits and the portability of Title I funds to non-public schools. A proposed amendment to create vouchers was soundly defeated. However, proposals for additional amendments to divert resources to non-public schools are anticipated.

Last week, NJSBA alerted its Legislative Committee of the issue, and members responded by sending the state’s U.S. Senators messages urging approval of S.1177 without amendments that would divert resources from public schools. The messages thanked the Senators for their support of public education and urged them to reject amendments that would create vouchers, tuition tax credits for non-public schools, Title I portability or similar structures.

As we went to press on July14, the Senate voted down an amendment calling for Title I portability. Introduced by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the amendment would have allowed Title I dollars to follow any eligible student who chose to attend any public or private school within their respective district. It would have also required the U.S. Department of Education to assess graduation rates for Title I students who decide to enroll in private schools. Both Sen. Robert Menendez and Sen. Cory Booker voted against the amendment.

This weekend, NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Larry Feinsod wrote to the Senators stating the Association’s position.

“The long awaited reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, S.1177, which will be considered by the Senate, will enable the continuation of critical funding for federal education programs and initiatives,” Feinsod wrote. “ESEA reauthorization, however, should not come at the cost of diverting needed resources away from our state’s public schools.”

He continued, “The inclusion of vouchers, tuition tax credits or Title 1 portability in S-1177 is not needed to serve the interests of New Jersey’s school-age population. Instead, it will only serve to damage our state’s—and our nations—public schools.”

Major Achievement by NSBA The National School Boards Association secured an important amendment to S.1177, which would help ensure that local stakeholders have a stronger voice in both the regulatory and guidance processes for ESEA. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a former school board member and past president of the Nebraska Association of School Boards, introduced the amendment with Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). The amendment is designed to ensure that communities have ultimate authority over their schools and to strengthen the relationship among local school board members and parents.

In addition to the NSBA-supported amendment, the Senate approved amendments to S.1177 that 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.

House Passes Bill Meanwhile, the House of Representatives last Wednesday passed its version of ESEA reauthorization, the Student Success Act (HR-5), which would substantially limit the federal government’s role in education, particularly pertaining to the use of high-stakes standardized testing. HR-5 represents the most significant proposed revision in federal education policy since No Child Left Behind, enacted 14 years ago.

The bill passed 218-213, with 27 Republicans and all Democrats voting in opposition.

HR-5 would shift responsibility for student assessment and school accountability to states by reducing or eliminating federal education oversight, spending, and programs. The bill would create a federal grant for states and school districts called the Local Academic Flexible Grant. It would set aside 10 percent of the grant for programs that operate outside of traditional public school systems, such as charter schools. It would also permit Title 1 funds, which are federal grants given to local education agencies serving a high percentage of low income families, to be given to charter schools.

Prior to approving the Student Success Act, the House amended the bill to:

  • Allow parents to opt their children out of state-issued tests for any reason. States would not be allowed to include such students in calculating their test participation rates. The amendment was accepted by a vote of 251–178.
  • Support the use of digital learning programs through competitive grants to implement technology-based learning practices and programs in rural schools. It was accepted by a vote of 218–213.
  • Allows states to withdraw from the Common Core State Standards or any other specific standards. It was accepted with a vote of 373–57.

The following members of New Jersey’s House delegation voted in favor of HR-5:  Rodney Frelinghuysen; Scott Garrett; Leonard Lance; Tom MacArthur; and Chris Smith. In opposition were Frank LoBiondo, Donald Norcross, Frank Pallone, Bill Pascrell, Donald Payne, Albio Sires, and Bonnie Watson Coleman.