Media Highlights

Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

by Melanie Anderson   •  

We have long known that education is the gateway to opportunity. For many years, education was one area where Republicans and Democrats were able to work across the aisle, make compromises and pass legislation. But in the current political environment, the White House and Congressional Republicans and Democrats are further apart than ever before on the appropriate role of the federal government in education, and therefore many important bills and issues have languished. 

Among these is our country’s central education law. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known as the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), was first passed as part of the Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. ESEA sets the structure for federal k-12 education programs and sends large amounts of federal funding for education programs to every state.

The education law technically expired in 2007 has been in dire need of reauthorization, as noted in today’s speech by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in which he proposes expanding access to high-quality preschool in a revised law. But gridlock and philosophical differences have scuttled myriad proposals over the years.

While ESEA has been waiting for an overhaul, millions of teens and young adults have struggled in school, dropped out, or failed to transition to meaningful education and career pathways. Today, 5.6 million youth ages 16-24 are “disconnected” meaning they are not in school and are not working. Millions more are at risk. We know that a child born into a family with low income in Canada and half a dozen European countries stands a better chance of improving his or her lot in life than a similar child born in the United States. The U.S., which has been slipping on international tests, continues to lose its competitive edge globally as other nations aggressively strengthen their education systems, particularly in the so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. 

Nearly everyone agrees that NCLB is far from perfect and desperately needs revision. But it achieved two things worth celebrating. It changed the national conversation about school accountability and our shared responsibility to help all children achieve at their highest levels. And it was a bipartisan bill that brought together both parties and both chambers under a Republican president to pass sweeping changes.

Opportunity Nation believes that a reauthorized ESEA should focus on increasing multiple pathways to success by focusing on both students who have dropped out of school and those at risk of leaving the system. Programs should offer a comprehensive package of services that identify students at risk of dropping out, provide them with services designed to keep them in school and help ensure their continued progress.

A reauthorized ESEA also must focus on ensuring program effectiveness by strengthening accountability for results and the development of evidenced-based programs and interventions. This could provide states with the flexibility to improve outcomes for youth while holding them accountable for results and maximizing taxpayer dollars.

While we acknowledge that there has been significant legislative work over the last seven years to reauthorize ESEA, partisan gridlock has prevented ESEA from moving past the finished line. We believe it will take all of us, representing different political parties and beliefs, to put in place sound policies that help our youth find their education and career path and secure their piece of the American Dream. We urge all parties to join together in passing a bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill.


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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