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Letter to the Senate from Lily Eskelsen García on Final Passage of S. 1177

July 16, 2015

Dear Senator: 

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we urge you to vote YES on final passage of the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177). Votes associated with this issue will be included in NEA’s Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress. 

It is fitting that this vote coincides with the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A major impetus for that law was the unanimous, landmark ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, in which it declared that education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” For more than 13 years, students and educators have endured the erosion of progress toward that goal due to the failure of policies created by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It is well past time to correct course and focus on closing opportunity and resource gaps so that all students have access to a well-rounded education no matter their zip code. 

Unprecedented numbers of educators have spoken out and urged Congress to move forward, reauthorize ESEA, and get it right this time—especially for the students with the greatest educational needs. S. 1177 represents a strong bipartisan effort that moves significantly in the right direction in the three key areas in which our members have sought progress:

  • Providing more opportunity for all students and closing resource gaps;
  • Reducing the focus on standardized tests so students have more time to learn; and,
  • Empowering educators with a greater voice in educational and instructional decisions.  

While not perfect and with room for improvement still remaining before a bill reaches the President’s desk, S. 1177 marks a significant improvement over current law in numerous ways:

  • Opportunity. S. 1177 moves decision-making to the people who know the names of the students they educate, incentivizes supports and interventions tailored to local needs, and preserves the historic federal role in protecting the most vulnerable: children in poverty, students with disabilities, and English-language learners. For the first time, state-designed accountability systems must include indicators of school success or student supports, such as access to advanced coursework, school climate and safety, fine arts, regular physical education, and counselors, librarians, or nurses. Importantly, this information must be disaggregated by student subgroups.
  • Assessments. S. 1177 requires multiple measures of success in elementary, middle and high schools. It incorporates the SMART Act to provide funding for states to audit and streamline assessment systems, eliminate unnecessary assessments, and improve the use of assessments. And it creates a pilot program for state-designed assessments driven by teaching and learning, not accountability alone, and allows all states that meet the criteria to participate in the pilot program.
  • Educators. S. 1177 maintains critical professional qualifications for paraeducators. It includes expansive language around supports for educators in their early years in the classroom, such as residencies and mentoring, and recognizes the vital role they play in identifying and meeting students’ needs.
  • Flexibility. S. 1177 recognizes that the one-size-fits-all approach does not work. It encourages communities, parents, and educators to work together to improve their local schools.
  • Parents. S. 1177 recognizes that parents and guardians have the right to have their children opt out of statewide academic assessments where state and local policies allow them to do so, and requires school districts to inform parents of such policies.
  • Early childhood education. S. 1177 enhances access to early childhood education by authorizing alignment and improvement grants to improve coordination of current funding.  

The Senate is on the cusp of an historic opportunity to begin fulfilling America’s promise of equal educational opportunity for all. We applaud the bipartisan efforts that have led to this moment and urge you to vote YES on S. 1177. We continue to stand ready to work with you and your colleagues in both the Senate and House to craft a conference bill that ultimately is signed by the president. Our goal remains a final ESEA reauthorization that truly promotes opportunity, equity, and excellence for all our students.  

Sincerely, 

Lily Eskelsen García
President