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Letter to the Senate HELP Committee on No Child Left Behind: Early Lessons from State Flexibility Waivers

February 06, 2013

Dear Senator:  

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association, we urge you to take the opportunity of tomorrow’s hearing, “No Child Left Behind: Early Lessons from State Flexibility Waivers,” to reflect on the pressing need for a full reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). 

The beginning of a new Congress is a fresh start, an opportunity to focus on the long overdue reauthorization of ESEA. We know that students need access to quality early childhood education programs, reasonable class sizes, safe schools, and accomplished educators focused on their learning. A reauthorized ESEA can deliver all of that and more — equitable support for every public school so that students’ access to a quality education is no longer determined by their zip code; a renewed focus on early intervention strategies to ensure students receive the support they need — when they need it — to graduate on time; as well as common-sense resources that help students identify and celebrate their strengths, and help them address and overcome any challenges. 

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the version of the law enacted in 2002, rightly focused attention on troubling and lingering issues with school systems providing necessary support for various groups of students, including students with disabilities, students of color, and English-language learners. NCLB failed, however, to take the next step: to ensure all students equal access to educational opportunity.  

We urge you to address these issues in ESEA reauthorization by focusing on ensuring equity, updating accountability requirements based on multiple measures that emphasize and support school improvement, and providing needed and sustainable support and technical assistance for priority schools rather than labeling and punishing them. The attached document, “ESEA Reauthorization: NEA’s Message to Congress,” elucidates the principles that should guide this effort.  

NCLB waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Education have given most states a temporary reprieve from some of the most onerous provisions of the law, and given states and stakeholders in the education community a chance to propose different strategies to improve schools for students. Now, it is time to use what we have learned from states, local school districts, and educators to reauthorize the law so that it works for students and their success.  

As the 113th Congress begins its work, we urge you to make a fresh start, focus on reauthorization of ESEA in its entirety, and incorporate the positive lessons learned from the waiver program in the next version of the law. NEA stands ready to work with the Committee to achieve those goals.  

Thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments.     

Sincerely, 

Mary Kusler 
Director, Government Relations