Educators, school districts, governors, parents and other stakeholders have waited since 2007 for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions passed an ESEA reauthorization bill last October, and the U.S. House of Representatives will move their reauthorization bills toward a mark-up this week. In the meantime, the Obama Administration has issued ESEA waivers to 11 states, with more states applying this week.

Both House ESEA bills were introduced by Representative John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee. They are the Student Success Act, which would amend and reauthorize Title I and other ESEA mandates, and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, which engages parents in the education of their children. However, the two bills fall dramatically short of effectively serving students and families. The First Focus Campaign for Children is especially concerned for the following:

Fund Transferability and Flexibility: The proposal cedes control of federal funding streams intended to level the playing field for kids adversely impacted by educational disparities. This means that funds may not necessarily be used to give every student a fair chance at educational success, the intent of ESEA. Instead, the proposal undermines efforts to sustain an appropriate federal role in education and perpetrates the inequity of funding for some student populations, including English learners and students attending low-income schools.

Accountability Systems: The House proposal eliminates school accountability standards. There are benefits to be gained from letting go of the punitive restrictions of Adequate Yearly Progress, but we oppose any abandonment of accountability for the learning progress of student facing education disparities.

Highly Qualified Teachers: The draft bill eliminates all baseline preparation standards for teachers, instead focusing solely on measuring teacher effectiveness. While measuring teacher effectiveness is important, these bills do not consider that teacher effectiveness cannot be measured until a teacher is in the classroom, and therefore fail to take a comprehensive look at a teacher’s qualifications in the beginning of his or her career.

Comparability: The proposal does not address the issue of comparability of per pupil funding between schools, leading to inequitable distribution of state and local funds.

English Learners:Class Size Reduction: The proposed legislation limits efforts to reduce class size through the hiring of teachers by reducing funding for these efforts to just 10 percent of Title II (funding to improve teacher quality), down from its current 38 percent. By capping this funding, we are concerned that school districts will not be able to pay teacher salaries previously funded through federal class size reduction efforts.

Early Education: The draft proposal lacks a focus on early education and the creation of school improvement and professional development activities within early childhood development and education.

ESEA is outdated and efforts to revamp the law and help every student become college and career ready are to be applauded. However, the House legislation is both extreme and partisan. As the House bills move through mark-up this week, moving closer towards a ESEA reauthorization, we urge policymakers to move forward in a bipartisan way that addresses the aforementioned concerns and addresses the following five priorities:

  • Providing comprehensive services and wrap-around support for students
  • Reconnecting high school dropouts
  • Strengthening educational opportunities for children and youth in unstable housing
  • Expanding high quality early learning opportunities
  • Ensuring that every student had a teacher that is both highly qualified and effective

On behalf of the nation’s 50 million elementary and secondary students, we can’t afford 2012 to slip away without a robust reauthorization of ESEA that provides all students the opportunity to succeed. Stay tuned for further analysis of the House ESEA reauthorization proposals as they are marked-up.