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Letter to the Senate on amendments to "The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015” (S. 1177)

July 08, 2015

Dear Senator: 

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, and as a follow-up to our letter on the underlying bill, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (S. 1177), we wish to share our views on selected amendments to be voted on this week. Votes associated with these issues may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress. We will send additional letters on upcoming amendments during debate on the bill. 

NEA strongly supports and urges you to vote YES on:

  • Opportunity Dashboard of Core Resources by Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). To help ensure that students are college- and career-ready, we need a fairer accountability system, built around an “opportunity dashboard,” that includes indicators of school quality and student success, such as graduation rates, as well as state-determined indicators of students’ access to resources and supports like advanced coursework, fully qualified teachers, specialized instructional personnel, libraries, modern instructional materials and facilities, health and wellness programs, high-quality early education programs, and arts and athletic programs. This amendment would require data on these indicators to be promulgated; disaggregated by student subgroup; and used to remedy quickly any gaps in students’ access to resources, supports, and programs.  

NEA strongly opposes and urges you to vote NO on:

  • Private School Vouchers by Senators Scott (R-SC) and Alexander (R-TN). Vouchers divert essential resources from public schools to private schools while offering no real “choice” for the overwhelming majority of students. Moreover, there is no valid evidence that vouchers improve the performance of either the students receiving them or those left behind in public schools. Private schools are neither required to ensure that federal funds are handled properly nor held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as public schools. Vouchers do not create choice for parents, but rather choice for private schools—they can reject students based on economic status, academic achievement, disabilities, or even gender. Special education vouchers, as proposed by Sen. Scott, are problematic as students who attend private schools relinquish their rights under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act; additionally, IDEA already permits an avenue for students to attend a private school at public expense if the public schools are unable to provide the needed services.  
  • Title I Portability by Senator Scott (R-SC). Having federal funds “follow the child” is a backdoor route to vouchers that would dilute the impact of Title I, harm students attending Title I schools, create overly burdensome administrative and accounting headaches for local school districts, and do nothing to address the failure to fund Title I adequately. According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, Title I, Part A, is underfunded by at least $20 billion. Full funding would be a far more effective strategy to ensure that children in poverty receive the supplemental services they need to achieve on par with their wealthier peers. Better still would be incentives to encourage states to adopt school financing systems that target funding to students based on their needs.  

On other amendments that may be voted on this week we urge you to:

  • Vote Yes on Amendment 2085 by Senators Reed (D-RI) and Cochran (R-MS) regarding school librarians and effective school library programs
  • Vote Yes on Amendment 2109 by Senator Hirono (D-HI) to provide for additional disaggregation of data for school districts with a total of not less than 1,000 Asian Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders
  • Vote Yes on Amendment 2078 by Senator Rounds (R-SD) to require the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study regarding elementary and secondary education in rural and poverty areas of Indian country.

Additionally, on the issue of background checks for school employees, we urge you to take the following actions:

  • Vote No on Amendment 2094 by Sen. Toomey (R-PA)
  • Vote Yes on Amendment 2090 by Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Vote Yes  on Amendment 2084 by Sen. Alexander (R-TN)  

Background checks for school employees are a critical part of ensuring that every student has a safe learning environment. While the Toomey amendment is well intentioned, it fails to take steps to truly protect students or implement best practices to strengthen the background check system as a whole, which may result in unintended consequences. In contrast, both the Whitehouse and Alexander amendments methodically address issues and effect improvements in the background check process—everything from preventing backlogs and ensuring the accuracy of FBI criminal records to providing a robust appeals process and protecting confidentiality. 

We thank you for your consideration of our views on these amendments, and look forward to continuing to work with all senators to pass the strongest possible bill that provides all students with a quality, well-rounded education no matter their zip code. 

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations