On July 16, the U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act, S-1177, the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), by a vote of 81-17. The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the reauthorization, HR-5, the Student Success Act, on July 8. The Senate and House will meet to reconcile differences between the two bills.

Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker voted in favor of S-1177 which, thanks to advocacy by public education advocates, contains no provisions to divert federal funding to non-public schools through mechanisms such as tuition tax credits or vouchers. The Senate bill also represents a major victory for local school boards with the inclusion of an amendment sought by the National School Boards Association and designed to protect local governance of public education.

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.

Vouchers Proposals Defeated Of critical concern in the Senate deliberations over the measure was the possibility of amendments that would create vouchers, tuition tax credits and the portability of Title I funds to non-public schools.

An amendment on school choice that would have allowed Title I dollars to follow any eligible student who chose to attend any public or private school was defeated, as were amendments that would have changed the ESEA Title I funding formula; restructured the Title I program into individual scholarships for vouchers; and converted ESEA funding into a block grant to states that would allow funds to be used for “any educational purpose” permitted under state law.

In the past few weeks, 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. NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod also wrote to New Jersey’s 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 nation’s—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 The House of Representatives’ version of ESEA reauthorization passed July 8. HR-5 would substantially limit the federal government’s role in education, particularly pertaining to the use of high-stakes standardized testing. 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.