Time to Reauthorize the Federal Education Law
Mark Edwards, Executive Director Opportunity Nation
As Americans, we know that education is the gateway to opportunity. Until fairly recently, it was one policy area on which the U.S. Congress was able to work across the aisle, compromise and pass legislation. But in the current political environment of gridlock and partisan divide, Republicans and Democrats are further apart than ever on the appropriate role of the federal government in public schools.
As a result, little is moving forward in this critically important area.
Meanwhile, 6.7 million young people ages 16 to 24 are not in school and are not working, a tragic loss to them personally and to the nation as a whole. We know that today, a child born into a low-income family in Canada and a dozen European countries stands a better chance of improving his or her lot in life than a low-income 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 STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.
The Opportunity Index, a unique tool we have developed that measures the economic, educational and civic health of states and counties, shows that helping disconnected youth find meaningful post-secondary pathways is one of the biggest levers to expand opportunity and economic mobility for all of us.
As we state in our Shared Plan: Restoring Opportunity to Young Adults, we need to ensure that more youth stay in high school, receive their diploma and enter post-secondary institutions where they will receive the training and education they need to secure good-paying 21st century jobs. This includes “middle-skill” jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year bachelor’s degree.
While not perfect, this is why we are supportive of elements of a bill passed by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last week. The Strengthening America’s Schools Act would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s overarching federal education law.
Renewing our country’s central education law is woefully overdue. The Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (ESEA), is better known by most Americans under the Bush-era version, No Child Left Behind, officially expired in 2007.
Both Republicans and Democrats agree that No Child Left Behind, enacted in 2001, was far from perfect and desperately needs an overhaul. 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.
At a time when little legislative action is taking place, Opportunity Nation is pleased to see progress on our Shared Planed in the version of the bill passed by the Senate, including several objectives in the Improving Secondary Schools Program. This program offers competitive grants that focus on bridging the middle school and high school divide. It supports evidence-based dropout prevention and recovery efforts for those students and communities who need them the most.
It includes several factors we believe will help put low-income students on a path toward high school graduation, postsecondary education and a career:
- Early warning indicator systems;
- Effective dropout prevention and recovery activities;
- Work-based learning;
- Rigorous student support services;
- Data reporting
We were also pleased to see House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline understand the need for a reauthorized ESEA by introducing the Student Success Act. We look forward to working with the Chairman and other members of the committee to incorporate these important elements as the House ESEA reauthorization process gets underway.
At Opportunity Nation, we believe it will take all of us, representing different political parties and beliefs, to put in place sound policies that help our young people find their educational and career path and secure their piece of the American Dream.
Let’s get it done this year, and reauthorize the nation’s biggest education law.