Committing to ESEA Reauthorization


The Advocate – April 2015
Dan Domenech, executive director
AASA, The School Superintendents Association

April is shaping up to be a big month as it relates to ESEA reauthorization. So far, 2015 could be the year with the best odds for complete reauthorization. The odds that it gets to the President’s desk may remain low (30 percent), but we’ll take it.

Just this week [April 6], AASA was joined by 49 of its state affiliates in sending a letter to both the House and Senate expressing our absolute commitment to ESEA reauthorization. The opening paragraph captures the sentiment perfectly:

“The current ESEA expired more than seven years ago, meaning that our nation’s K-6th graders have spent every day of their K-12 experience—to date—under an outdated and broken ESEA. Our students want and deserve more. Though Congress has been engaged in efforts to reauthorize ESEA for the past seven years, we cannot continue to ask our nation’s schools and the students they serve to live under the patch-work approach offered by the administration’s waivers. Congress alone can and should address the shortcomings of current law and the waivers.”

The letter represents a clear and unified call for reauthorization. We hope it will serve as a nudge to the House to resume its ESEA momentum and bring HR 5 to the floor. You’ll recall that the House effort to reauthorize fell apart at the end of February in a confluence of non-education political pressures. The nation’s public schools are in every Congressional district—red, blue, purple, or other—and as such, shouldn’t education be a bipartisan priority? And while HR 5 is quite partisan in its policy proposal, we can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.

The reality is that no HR 5 means no ESEA this Congress. It means two more years of waivers. HR 5 is far from perfect (something we clearly articulate in our letter of endorsement), but is it so bad that it is worse than current law? Our answer is no.

When we took the position to endorse HR 5, it was as much about the policies in the bill as it was a political calculus that the things that gave us pause (portability, funding caps and the elimination of maintenance of effort) could/would be addressed in the Senate bill, in conference and in final negotiations. And our hunch proved correct.

Last week, AASA was among a small number of groups briefed on the Senate bipartisan effort, a bi-partisan bill that improves our biggest concerns in the House bill. What’s in the Senate bill? Here’s a quick list, which we will flesh out once we actually have legislation to read:

  • Keeps annual assessment.
  • NO portability for Title I funding.
  • Limits the secretary's waiver authority in the law, including limits on tying conditions to waivers.
  • Keeps current law on maintenance of effort.
  • Requires states to have challenging academic standards, but those standards wouldn't need to be reviewed by the education department.
  • Eliminates AYP, AMO, and 100 percent proficiency.
  • Maintains data disaggregation and graduation rate calculation.
  • Requires states to have an accountability system, but states will be in charge of determining who is identified and how, and what school improvement/turnaround models to use.

With all of this momentum, superintendents have a critical role to play. These decisions are going to be made—and the votes will happen—whether you weigh in or not. Armed with this information, and the regular updates available on The Leading Edge blog and through the advocacy department, we urge AASA members to contact their House Representative and both Senators to relay not only support for ESEA reauthorization, but specific feedback on the respective chamber’s ESEA proposal. Our voices could mean the difference between reauthorization or more time under broken law and waivers.