Letters of Opposition to GOP's Draft ESEA Bills

Feb 6, 2012 Issues: Education, ESEA

It has been ten years since the passage of No Child Left Behind, the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This law ensures that all children have an equal access to a quality education no matter their background. However, there is broad agreement that the law is now outdated and is restraining schools from making the kinds of improvements needed to benefit students, communities and the economy. 

Rewriting the outdated No Child Left Behind law will only happen through bipartisan consensus that serves the interests of all the nation’s children. Unfortunately, Education Committee Republicans recently released two highly partisan draft pieces of legislation in place of a whole-scale rewrite of NCLB that do not live up to our nation’s commitment to all of our children. Many organizations have expressed serious concerns about these proposals for falling short on providing for students nationwide. Below, you will find letters of opposition and concerns about the Republicans' legislation:

  • Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the Committee: “The draft language abandons students, parents, and taxpayers alike by failing to hold school systems accountable for improving student achievement.  It walks away from the broad consensus reached throughout the country that our schools must prepare students to graduate college-ready and career-ready.  It undermines programs for our most vulnerable students, shirking the civil rights responsibilities of the federal government.  It eliminates critical programs and funding that promote a balanced education such as those that create a well-rounded curriculum or wrap-around services for students.  Additionally, the Kline draft removes critical assurances to taxpayers that states and districts maintain education funding."
  • Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: "I appreciate the effort, but this bill retreats from reform, accountability and bipartisanship. We need to set politics aside and put kids first. Until Congress can pass a real bi-partisan reform bill that the president can sign, we'll be moving forward with our ESEA flexibility package because America can't wait."
  • Sen.Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the Senate Education Committee and the author of that chamber's bill: "I am disappointed that he [Rep. Kline] has abandoned the longstanding tradition of bipartisanship when it comes to the education of our kids."
  • The Center for American Progress: The bills do "more harm than good by returning almost all control of education to the local level. They would jeopardize important civil rights protections for disadvantaged students, reduce accountability for the use of taxpayer dollars, and promote partisan ideas that make it less likely NCLB actually gets reauthorized soon." (Another letter from the Center for American Progress can be found here)
  • Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia: "Bipartisan gains for the nation's high schools made under the Bush and Obama administrations would be threatened or lost under the House committee's proposal." For example, under these draft proposals, "the federal requirement for high school graduation rate accountability would be eliminated," and these drafts do not "call for necessary college- and career-ready standards and could limit the ability of the U.S. Department of Education to support the state-led effort to implement common assessments aligned with these standards."
  • The New America Foundation: There are a few "surprising omissions" from the Republican draft bills, which "generally lessen the federal role in state and local K-12 education, particularly as it pertains to accountability and standards, putting more authority in states’ hands." These drafts show what the GOP has "in mind for a future federal role in K-12 education: far fewer fiscal and accountability requirements for state and local school districts masquerading as flexibility and local control." Furthermore, New America sees reauthorization as unlikely unless it's bipartisan, and unless more lawmakers "start thinking about education as a coherent system from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade if they want to ensure more children are ready for kindergarten, reading by the end of third grade and on the path to graduate from high school ready for college and career." (Another letter from the New America Foundation can be found here)
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities: These bills "represent a full retreat from accountability for students with disabilities and other disadvantaged children...[because they] fail to focus on closing the destructive achievement gaps that impacts" these students.
  • Education Sector: The proposals "could mean that far fewer schools – especially low-performing high schools that are less likely to be designated as Title I schools – are part of state school improvement efforts."
  • Alyson Klein, writing for Education Week: The draft bills would "significantly scale back the federal role in K-12 schools and go further than any other proposal yet to dismantle the accountability tenets at the heart of" NCLB.
  •  Democrats for Education Reform"I think this is a stage prop rather than a real legislative effort," "They're just doing this to say they did something." Under the bill, accountability would be "pretty much anything goes...It's just a bunch of vague language." 
  • Top Civil Rights, Business, Disabilty, and Education Groups (including U.S. Chamber of Commmerce, NAACP and ACLU. click here for a list of all 38): "… it abandons accountability for the achievement and learning gains of subgroups of disadvantaged students who for generations have been harmed by low academic expectations...As a result, the draft would thrust us back to an earlier time when states could choose to ignore disparities for children of color, low-income students, ELLs, and students with disabilities. The results, for these groups of students and for our nation as a whole, were devastating."
  • The National Education Association: “The House draft bills fail to address equity issues adequately. The House proposals do not push states enough to narrow achievement gaps; provide equal access to quality education; and ensure that state standards and assessment and accountability systems work for students.  The proposals also lack a comprehensive plan to address existing inequities in public education that harm students and communities, particularly students and communities of color."
  • The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities: "While we have many concerns with the draft bills, we are writing today with regard to three fundamental issues that seriously undermine the progress and academic achievement of students with disabilities. They are: the lack of subgroup accountability, the lifting of the cap on the Alternate Assessment on Alternate Achievement Standards (AA-AAS), the rollback on teacher quality."
  • Local education groups including the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National School Boards Association:“Current MoE [Maintenance of Effort] provisions provide the greatest protection to low-wealth districts that generally educate more low-income students. These low-income districts generally receive the majority share of their funding from the state, and if states are allowed to cut funding, the most vulnerable districts—those that teach the most vulnerable students—will be hurt disproportionately. Elimination of MoE would compound fiscal pressures at the local level, upending the driving principle behind Title I as federal dollars would be used to backfill holes in state and local support. We urge the committee to retain current law related to Maintenance of Effort.”
  • Buisness Coalition for Student Achievement: "However, overall, the legislation proposes a striking retreat from the principles of education reform that will position students to maintain America’s competitive edge in the global economy."
  • Council of the Great City Schools: "A major concern with H.R. 3989 lies in the lack of clear linkage between the academic performance of traditional (sub)groups of students and the accountability, intervention, and improvement actions that should follow. Moreover, delegating the bulk of accountability and improvement determinations to the state departments of education ignores the very limited instructional capabilities of most states and the historic mistreatment by many states of schools and communities with concentrations of poor and minority students."
  • National Association of State Directors of Special Education: "Taken together, we believe that both H.R. 3989 and H.R. 3990 fail to provide the strong support for all students that the ESEA has provided in the past. We look forward to continuing to work with you and all members of the Committee to strengthen these bills to address the above concerns and ensure strong measures of accountability."
  • Afterschool Alliance: "The Afterschool Alliance does not support the approach taken in HR 3990, the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act which proposes a block grant to states for a diverse set of purposes and does not reauthorize the 21st CCLC initiative, which could lead to over 1.1 million students losing access to programs that keep students safe, engage young people in their own education and help working families."
  • American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education: "The nation simply will not maintain its competitive economy, maintain its capacity for creativity, and develop informed and active citizens if we do not strengthen and reform the preparation of all educators. These bills fail to do that."
  • Advcocates For Literacy: "The Coalition does not support the approach taken in HR 3990, the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, which proposes a block grant to states without specific purpose areas to ensure the most disadvantaged students and schools receive dedicated resources in critical areas of need, such as literacy instruction.  Without a targeted funding stream to improve literacy, our nation will not remain globally competitive and the needs of our most at-risk students to succeed in school and after graduation will not be met."
  • The National Title I Association: "Federal education policy must support states and local school districts in providing access to a high quality education for all students. We believe that there must be a conitnued emphasis on children who live in poverty, whose native language is not English, who have exceptionalities, and who are low achieving at all grade levels, including pre-school. To achieve these goals, the federal government should nto reduce the focus on these high-need populations, which we think, unfortunately, this bill does."