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Advocates Urge Yes Vote on Senate Bipartisan Education Bill
Ed Walz (Former Staff)Early Childhood Education Health Nutrition Poverty & Family Economics
Washington – The First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization, today sent a letter to members of the United States Senate urging passage of legislation to reauthorize federal primary and secondary education initiatives. A passage vote is expected today on the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), championed by Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Washington).
“It’s been 13 years since Congress updated America’s education law – action is well overdue, and we applaud Chairman Alexander and Senator Murray for finding a path forward,” said Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley.
As the letter observes, the bill makes important improvements:
- Requires, for the first time, that districts begin integrating early childhood initiatives with K-12 education;
- Addresses the critical issue of “school climate” – a priority not only on safety concerns, but also concerns about disparate treatment of kids of color (who already face an alarming school achievement gap) in suspension, expulsion, and other discipline actions;
- Improves teacher professional development in Title II, giving districts the opportunity to increase their investments in recruiting, training, developing, and retaining good teachers;
- Adopts an amendment by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) making federal funds available to hire a coordinator charged with ensuring that students get maximum benefit from nutrition assistance, health care, or other supportive services delivered through community partnerships;
- Adopts an amendment by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Sen. Brown to support district and school efforts to establish community schools, by partnering with community organizations to better meet students’ needs, and;
- Adopts an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) aimed at helping more than one million homeless K-12 students, many of whom do not receive critical supportive services from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), because of a complex HUD definition and policy.
“The Senate must pass this bill to keep making progress toward reform,” said Lesley.
The letter notes that the legislation is not perfect. If adopted by the Senate, both chambers of Congress would appoint bipartisan “conference committee” negotiators tasked with developing a final package. The Campaign for Children urged lawmakers to consider specific improvements:
- Adding specific funding authorizations, as the Senate bill does not denote funding levels for any specific policy initiatives, tacitly accepting congressional budget caps that resulted in a nearly 20 percent cut to federal education funding over the last five years;
- Adding a federal teacher qualification standard, as the bill does nothing to guarantee that taxpayer funds are invested only in teachers with specific minimum qualifications;
- Strengthening anti-bullying policy, as the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) to require effective prevention and response to the bullying of LGBT children;
- Make data-informed investments, as the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) requiring schools to identify resource gaps affecting student achievement – from not having counselors to not having science courses – and plan to close those gaps;
- Help kids succeed from the start, as the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) to make high-quality pre-Kindergarten affordable for more children, increasing the likelihood that they will enter Kindergarten ready to learn.
“No Child Left Behind failed because Congress matched high expectations with lowball funding – the question now is whether Congress has learned its lesson,” said Lesley.
The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit campaignforchildren.org.