Senate Advances Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization Leaving Out Important Provisions for Students with Disabilities

Last week, the Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ECAA; S. 1177) and replacing No Child Left Behind.  A number of key amendments that The Arc opposed were either defeated or the Senate did not vote on them.  For example, the Scott Amendment (S.A. 2132) would have allowed Title I funds to follow students to private schools; private schools would continue to be exempt from accountability for the success of students.  The amendment was defeated by a vote of 45-51.  Unfortunately, several important amendments that The Arc supported were defeated, including:

  • The Casey Amendment (A. 2242) would have provided universal access to pre-school and require settings that were inclusive for children with disabilities. The Senate defeated this amendment on a vote of 45-52.
  • The Murphy Amendment (A. 2241) would have required action when schools underperform.  Specifically, schools where any sub-group of students (such as students with disabilities) failed to meet state-determined goals would have received locally-designed interventions and supports.  Absent this provision, no action is required when sub-groups of students fail to meet goals.  The Senate defeated this amendment on a vote of 43-54.
  • The Student Non-Discrimination Act (A. 2093; Franken (D-MA)) would have prohibited discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  The Arc supported this amendment to protect all students, including students with disabilities, from discrimination and bullying because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  This amendment was defeated by a vote of 52 to 45 (60 votes were required).

For the bill to become law, the House and Senate will first have to form a conference committee and reconcile the difference between their two bills.  Both chambers must then approve the new version, before it can reach the President’s desk.

House and Senate Move to Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

ESEA bills advanced last week in both the House and Senate. While the bills are substantially very different, both would continue federally mandated tests, but states would have more flexibility on what they do with the results.

The Senate began debating its bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), on July 8. Over 100 amendments were filed and debate is expected to continue for at least another week. The Obama Administration has stated that it cannot support the Senate bill because it lacks key pieces, including accountability measures. The Arc is also concerned about accountability and support requiring schools to take action when students groups (including students with disabilities) fail to achieve state standards for more than 2 consecutive years. See action alert above.

The House passed its bill, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), on July 8 by a slim vote of 218 – 213. No Democrats supported the bill and 27 Republicans voted against it. The House bill includes a number of divisive provisions, including “portability” which allows federal dollars to follow low-income students from their neighborhood school to other public or private schools of their choice. The Arc opposes the House bill because it does not: 1) Limit the use of Alternate Assessments based on Alternate Achievement Standards (AA-AAS) to 1% of all students assessed, by grade and by subject; 2) Ensure that parents are involved in the decision about whether their child will take an AA-AAS; 3) Ensure that students with disabilities, including those taking an AA-AAS, have continued access to the general education curriculum and are not precluded from earning a regular high school diploma; or 4) Trigger interventions for groups of students (including those with disabilities) not meeting the state standards.

Senate May Begin Debate on ESEA This Week

The Senate may take up the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) of 2015 (S. 1177) as soon as this week.  The ECAA renews the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as the No Child Left Behind Act) and provides greater autonomy to states.  The Arc supports numerous provision in the bill, such as the 1% cap on the number of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who can take an Alternative Assessment based on Alternative Achievement Standards (AA-AAS); ensuring that students who take an AA-AAS will not be prevented from earning a regular diploma; and requiring school systems to describe their plans for limiting the use of restraint and seclusion.  However, The Arc remains particularly concerned about the bill’s limited accountability provisions.  Presently, the ECAA only requires intervention and support for schools that fail to meet state performance standards overall, rather than for schools where any subgroups of students (including those with disabilities) fail to meet those standards.  Stay tuned for an action alert.

Department of Education Releases Annual Report on Highly Qualified Teachers

The Department of Education has released its annual report on Highly Qualified Teachers (HQTs). To be deemed highly qualified, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requires that teachers possess a baccalaureate degree and a state teaching certificate, and that teachers also demonstrate subject-matter knowledge. However, alternative route programs often allow candidates to teach while they complete their coursework for full state certification or licensure to fill critical shortage areas, such as special education. Such teachers may be considered highly qualified under ESEA, if they meet certain standards. Many advocates are concerned that teachers in alternative route programs may be disproportionately assigned to teach students with greater needs (such as those with disabilities) and are not fully prepared to teach them.

This year’s Department of Education report found that while most states employed some HQTs who were enrolled in alternative route teacher preparation programs, these teachers made up a small proportion, both overall as well as for the subgroups of HQTs examined in this report. The average percentage of HQTs enrolled in alternative route programs was 1.9% for special education teachers, 2.3% for high-poverty school districts, and 1.3% for rural school districts.

It is important to note that the requirement for “highly qualified teachers” has been removed from the current version of the Senate ESEA (S. 1177). Teachers must only be “state certified” and states have multiple levels of certification, including “temporary” and “provisional. Learn more at the Coalition for Teaching Quality.

Bipartisan ESEA Reauthorization Bill Passed by Senate Committee; Includes Many Improvements for Students with Disabilities

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously passed a reauthorization bill for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) on April 16. The bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) of 2015, was introduced by the Committee Chairman and Ranking Members, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), to overhaul the last ESEA reauthorization (also known as No Child Left Behind).   During the markup, the Committee considered 57 amendments and approved 29 of them.

The ECAA reduces the federal role in school accountability, but allows the Department of Education to put some conditions on the states.   It would prohibit the Education Department from endorsing or prescribing curriculum, including the Common Core State Standards. The ECAA also would allow, but not require, states to use teacher evaluation systems. The Arc is pleased that the ECAA voted out of committee includes a number of provisions that will benefit students with disabilities, including:

  • Allowing only up to 1% of all students – those who have the most significant cognitive disabilities – to take an Alternate Assessment based on Alternate Achievement Standards (AA-AAS).
  • Ensuring that students in every state who take the AA-AAS are not precluded from attempting to complete the requirements for a regular diploma;
  • Maintaining annual assessments of all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school for reading and math;
  • Including all students with disabilities in state and district-level assessments;
  • Strengthening parental involvement in the decision about whether their child will take an alternate assessment;
  • Providing support to states and school districts to ensure that teachers have the skills and knowledge necessary to instruct diverse learners;
  • Including the “parent right to know” provision, requiring that parents be informed that they may request information regarding qualifications of the student’s classroom teacher; and
  • Asking school districts to describe their plans for limiting the use of restraint and seclusion.

The approved bill will now go to the Senate floor for additional debate and amendments before a vote by the full Senate.

House Committee Marks Up ESEA Reauthorization Bill

On February 11, The House Education & the Workforce Committee marked up H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA is the law that governs general education – where most students with disabilities spend most of their time – in public schools. The Arc opposes H.R. 5 as it would remove accountability mechanisms for students with disabilities. View the archived webcast on the committee website.

House Education Bill Introduced

Last week, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN) introduced legislation to replace No Child Left Behind. The bill, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and makes numerous changes to the law that give states more flexibility in the accountability systems and the alternative assessments. The bill consolidates a number of programs and removes the maintenance of effort provisions that ensure that states and local areas do not cut their funding and continue to receive federal funds. The House Education and Workforce Committee is expected to move quickly on this legislation. Disability advocates oppose this bill and urge the House and Senate to work with the disability community to include provisions to provide meaningful access to rigorous standards for all students and fully include students with disabilities in the education system.

Senator Alexander Releases Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization Discussion Draft

On January 13, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the new Chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a discussion draft of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).   Entitled the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015,” the measure would significantly scale back the scope and extent of federal authority over states and school districts.   It includes numerous provisions that are of great concern to the disability community, including limiting the Department of Education’s role in setting standards for state accountability and reporting systems. Specifically, the measure would allow states to remove an unlimited number of students with disabilities from the general accountability system. The Arc strongly opposes this provision as it could obscure achievement gaps, lower expectations, and reduce standards for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.   A more detailed analysis of the bill will be provided at a later date. See the discussion draft at http://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/AEG15033.pdf

Senate Committee to Hold Hearing on Elementary and Secondary Education Act Testing and Accountability

On Wednesday, January 21, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability.” The hearing is expected to address the relevant provisions from the discussion draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization released by the Committee Chairman last week. For more information, see the HELP committee website.

Department of Education Releases State Reports on No Child Left Behind

The US Department of Education released reports for six of 35 states it has monitored concerning their No Child Left Behind waivers.  The reports for Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, and New York represent the department’s second, more intense round (Part B) of monitoring.  The reports of the first round (Part A), conducted in 2012, can be found on the department’s website.  The reports indicated that states are having problems intervening in schools with the biggest achievement gaps.  The department found that Mississippi needed to revise its plans for supporting students with disabilities transitioning to college and career ready standards.