Media Highlights

Progress on the reauthorization of major education law

by Melanie Anderson   •  

Education has long been one of the most powerful paths to economic mobility in the United States. And in today’s increasingly competitive environment, access to high-quality schools and the opportunities they can provide is a fundamental civil rights issue as well.

That’s why movement on the reauthorization of the nation’s overarching education bill, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), is so critically important. This law has always been directly linked to the expansion of opportunity for all children. When ESEA was first created in 1965, it was part of Civil Rights legislation and President Johnson’s War on Poverty.

The latest iteration of ESEA, which sets K-12 education policy and structure, and sends hundreds of millions of dollars in federal education aid to states each year, technically expired in 2007. Nearly everyone agrees that as No Child Left Behind, the education law strengthened state’s accountability to provide an adequate education to children of all backgrounds and zip codes and put a spotlight on teacher quality. But there is also broad agreement that NCLB is far from perfect and is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Yet, an increasingly divided Congress has been unable to reach bipartisan agreement on this major legislation. In the meantime, millions of children and young adults have struggled in school, dropped out or failed to transition to meaningful education and career pathways that would enable them to pursue their version of the American Dream.

There is reason to hope, however, that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are making steady progress on the reauthorization of ESEA. After months of debate and closed-door meetings, the Senate will debate a bipartisan bill later this week. In addition, the House of Representatives is also expected to consider its version of ESEA later this week.

Both the House and Senate versions of ESEA reauthorization have policy ideas we support.  The Senate bill underscores the importance of comprehensive services needed to keep students engaged, such as internships and apprenticeships, by providing opportunities for communities to establish or expand these activities. Both bills also include pay-for-performance or pay-for- success initiatives as an allowable use of funds in a number of programs, which we believe would encourage efficiency and effectiveness.

While we are pleased with the progress on the bill, we do believe there is room for improvement. One million students dropout of school every year, missing out on countless opportunities for success. Opportunity Nation believes that a reauthorized ESEA should include a dropout prevention program and should provide opportunities to renter for those who have already left the system. This program should offer a comprehensive package of services that identify these at risk students and provide them with services designed to keep them in school and help ensure their continued progress.

While we celebrate progress on this extremely important education law and laud the leadership that Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representatives John Kline (R-MN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) have shown, we know there is still significant legislative work ahead to get ESEA reauthorized.

We urge both Chambers of Congress to work together on this important piece of legislation and remain hopeful that a bill will reach President Obama for his signature this year.

Melanie Anderson Melanie Anderson is the Director of Government and External Affairs at Opportunity Nation. She directs the campaign’s government relations and policy efforts. Read Melanie's bio.

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