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Letter to the House Urging Representatives to vote NO on the Student Success Act (H.R. 5)

July 18, 2013

Dear Representative: 

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association, we would like to offer the following views in advance of consideration of the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), scheduled to be voted on by the full House this week. We urge your opposition to H.R. 5 in large measure because it erodes the historical federal role in public education: targeting resources to marginalized student populations as a means of helping to ensure equity of opportunity for all students. Votes on this bill may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 113th Congress. We will follow up today with a separate letter on specific amendments to H.R. 5 that were made in order by the Rules Committee. 

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the cornerstone of the federal presence in K-12 public education. Students, parents, educators, and policymakers on both sides of the political aisle agree that the current version of the law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has not worked as intended. It is time to replace NCLB with a fair, flexible, and innovative law that leads to real, sustainable opportunities for all students to succeed. Sadly, H.R. 5 would not be the law that our students need. 

The key to a successful reauthorization of ESEA is striking the appropriate balance in federal and state roles. Current law tips the balance too far in favor of the federal government with overly prescriptive, one-size-fits-all systems, but H.R. 5 tips the balance too far in the other direction, undermining the critical federal role in promoting equity for all students regardless of where they live. Specifically, educators are deeply troubled that the bill:   

  • Undermines the historical federal role in ensuring equity. The federal government must play a dual role: (1) as a partner in supporting states’ and school districts’ improvement and innovation strategies, and (2) as an enforcer of equity of opportunities, tools, and resources. At a time of rising poverty among students and families, H.R. 5 walks away from the federal commitment to trying to level the playing field—states and school districts are not even being asked to submit plans to demonstrate how they intend to ensure equity of opportunity. The bill does not push states enough to narrow achievement gaps; provide equal access to quality education; ensure that state assessment and accountability systems work for all students; and is lacking a comprehensive plan to address existing inequities in public education that are harming students and communities, especially students and communities of color.
  • Eliminates maintenance of effort. Should this come to pass, it will trigger a race to the bottom and upend the driving principle behind Title I. Federal dollars will be used to plug holes in state and local support for public education—not to provide additional help and resources for children who are economically disadvantaged or lagging behind academically, the original intent of ESEA.
  • Provides inadequate funding. Authorizations of appropriations are inadequate throughout the bill, as all but the Title I levels are set at fiscal year 2013 post-sequester levels and held constant over five years despite projections of rising enrollments and modest cost increases.
  • Continues lax policies that do not hold charter schools to the same standards of accountability and transparency as other public schools. Charter schools are public schools, so they should be held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools. The bill fails to address long-standing, significant issues of transparency and accountability to students, parents, and taxpayers. Moreover, it penalizes states that cap the number of charter schools. 
  • Undermines teacher quality efforts while dictating how teachers are to be evaluated. H.R. 5 eliminates all focus on the quality of teachers entering the profession, diminishes the focus on professional development, and inappropriately prescribes the basis for teacher evaluation. On the one hand, H.R. 5 acknowledges the importance of multiple measures; on the other, it prioritizes a single measure: student achievement. In addition, H.R. 5 lacks clear protection of collective bargaining agreements and the role of collective bargaining in constructing teacher evaluation systems.  

While the above provisions raise significant concerns, we do appreciate that the bill eliminates Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and the arbitrary deadline for 100 percent proficiency; retains disaggregation of student subgroup data; scraps NCLB’s one-size-fits-all system of labeling and punishing schools; allows greater flexibility in implementing school improvement strategies; and calls for common-sense assessments of students with disabilities based on the IEP team’s determination. While these elements of the bill are encouraging, the overall measure falls well short of what is needed in ESEA reauthorization. 

We urge you to vote NO on H.R. 5. As we approach the 60th anniversary of Brown v. the Board of Education, we urge Congress to make a renewed effort to focus on the very real opportunity gaps in our education system—not perpetuate a system that delivers unequal opportunities and uneven quality to America’s children based on the zip code where they live. 

Sincerely, 

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations