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House Effort to Rewrite No Child Left Behind Gets an F

Yesterday, the House passed H.R. 5, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Since its enactment 50 years ago, the goal of the ESEA has been to make sure all children—including disadvantaged children—have access to a quality education.  ESEA was last amended as No Child Left Behind in 2001. And although the law is long overdue for a rewrite, it has been crucial in uncovering gaps in achievement between certain groups of students. The National Women’s Law Center, with a coalition of more than 40 civil right organizations, has laid out principles that must be included in a reauthorized ESEA, including transparent and meaningful reporting of data.

Unfortunately, H.R. 5 not only fails to meet those principles, but also it takes a giant step backwards for students. Here are just three reasons why:

  1. It is like writing a huge check to the states with federal tax dollars, but with no oversight. Under ESEA, states and school districts get billions of dollars. You would think that lawmakers would want to make sure that that money is used to get good results for all kids, to prepare them college and careers in our 21st century economy. Yet, under the guise of “state flexibility” H.R.5 doles out federal funds without asking for any accountability in return. This is not innovation—it’s a rollback. Before ESEA was enacted, schools in many states disregarded the needs of children of color, low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities. It became clear that these students would not leave school college- and career-ready unless the federal government intervened. To ensure federal educational dollars are spent wisely and equitably, states must target federal resources to the students who need it most, set high standards and goals for student growth and improvement, and make changes when those goals are not met for certain groups of students.
  2. It takes away funding from students who need it the most. H.R. 5 includes a “portability” provision, which would allow federal funds targeted to the most vulnerable students to be reallocated for other uses. This would create a reverse Robin Hood situation where the nation’s poorest school districts would lose more than $675 million, while the most affluent school districts would get $440 million.
  3. It misses the opportunity to address barriers to learning that affect vulnerable youth. The reauthorization of the ESEA presents a unique opportunity for lawmakers to make sure all students have healthy learning environments, where they are safe from bullying, harassment, and excessive discipline policies that push kids out of school, where girls and boys alike have equal access to opportunities to learn about STEM fields and develop leadership skills in athletics and other extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, H.R. 5 fails to address these issues that are central to student success.

All students deserve access to quality education that gives them a meaningful chance to succeed in college or their careers. And historically, ESEA has played an important role in keeping states from shortchanging disadvantaged students. Unfortunately, when it comes to carrying out the goals of the ESEA, which are still very relevant today, H.R. 5 fails on all marks.