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.

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.