Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Congress Gets Closer to Replacing No Child Left Behind

This summer, both the House and Senate passed their own bills to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the current federal education law that has been in place since 2002.  Education stakeholders are hopeful Congress can get a final bill across the finish line this year to replace what most agree is a broken law.

Though the two bills differ in many areas, they both would significantly roll back the federal role in education. Both bills still require annual testing, but no longer require certain benchmark scores for students to achieve (known in No Child Left Behind as Adequate Yearly Progress.) Further, both bills leave the discretion to states as to when and how to intervene in low-performing schools. This is a marked change from NCLB’s system of increasing sanctions if schools did not make Adequate Yearly Progress.

The Coalition for Community Schools can point to key wins for the community schools movement that were incorporated into the Senate bill. These include:
  1. An amendment to establish a Full-Service Community Schools grant program
  2. An amendment to make it an allowable use of Title IV funds to designate or hire a coordinator
  3. Inclusion of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program
  4. Requirement for districts receiving Title IV funds for safe and healthy students to conduct a community-based needs assessment
  5. Requirement for states and districts receiving Title I funds to describe how they will address school climate (including attendance) and school discipline (including suspensions and expulsions) in their Title I plans and implementation
"This victory demonstrates the growing bipartisan support for the community school strategy," states Martin J. Blank, President of the Institute for Educational Leadership and Director of the Coalition. "More and more Senators are hearing from their constituents about the growth and impact of community schools in their states, and the strong return on investment that community schools yield for young people, families and their communities."

By October, the Chairpersons and Ranking Members of the House and Senate education committees will announce a conference committee of members who will tackle the challenge of combining both bills into one bill that both sides can support and that the President will be willing to sign. A number of tensions exist in this negotiation process, including:
  1. Accountability: Many Democrats want to beef up accountability to trigger interventions when schools fall below certain graduation rates and demonstrate significant subgroup achievement gaps, and this is an important issue for the White House as well.
  2. Choice: The House bill allows Title I portability, or the option for parents to use Title I money to send their children to any school of their choice, which would dissipate the concentration of Title I funds for high-poverty schools. Several Democrats and the White House strongly oppose this, and this could be a deal-breaker.
  3. Programs: The House bill eliminates virtually all federal programs like 21st Century Community Learning Centers, School Counseling, and others, while the Senate bill eliminates many. There will be robust debates about whether to preserve programs or streamline funding into block grants that states and districts can choose how to spend.
The Coalition is grateful to its more than 200 national, state and local partners who helped to push for provisions in the Senate bill that support the community school strategy. We will be rallying these partners again, as well as community school stakeholders across the country, to continue to push for these provisions in a final ESEA bill.

For updates, refer to our federal policy webpage and follow Director of Public Policy Mary Kingston Roche on Twitter at @kingston_m.


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