Representative Steve King: Things you should really know about the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) before you submit a bill repealing it and eliminating federal capability to direct funds to support high needs populations and promote educational initiatives.
1) ESEA is a critical component of protecting and supporting education access. ESEA works in combination with the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, and others to guide a de facto right to equal access to free and appropriate education. No de jure right to education has been constitutionally established (unless interpreted as part of “promote the general welfare” — one of the few rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that our own United States Constitution does not ensure – see procedures for amending the constitution and talk to Jesse Jackson who has championed such an amendment previously); so, these acts are critical for protecting the right to education. There are aspects of ESEA that protect populations like disadvantaged students (Title I), English language learners (Title III), native populations (Title VI), students on federal properties without local property taxes (Title VII), and homeless making ESEA an integral piece of our access to education. For deeper understanding of how these acts as well as various court cases interact and relate to a right to education, I recommend http://www.law.msu.edu/king/2007/Urchick.pdf.
2) ESEA evolves to support current needs of students and schools in its distribution of funding for high needs students and current initiatives in education. ESEA is a relatively fluid vehicle with shifts in what initiatives are supported, requirements for receiving funding, and other aspects each time the act is reauthorized. All focus on providing supports where most needed to facilitate quality education for all students, but how that is directed shifts over time The two most recent reauthorizations, NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) have focused largely on educational accountability in the requirements for receiving funding. In particular, NCLB federalized many requirements around standardized testing and teacher qualifications with these requirements maintained by ESSA but largely transferred to state rather than federal oversight. However, each shifted other initiatives as well. As an, NCLB increased emphasis on identifying and promoting research based best practices and supported charter school options but reduced grants both for gifted and talented services and arts education. Or, the most recent ESSA adds incentives for locally based interventions and emphasizes career and college readiness. You can gain a good understanding of how ESSA shifted both requirements and initiatives at http://www.ncsl.org/documents/educ/ESSA_summary_NCSL.pdf. Shifting ESEA to meet current needs is important to do as our country and world evolve. It is a legislative responsibility to systematically look at ESEA on a regular basis to make such shifts and direct supports. However, it is critical that such shifts maintain the basic integrity of ESEA protections and supports even when significant changes are made.
3) ESEA facilitates school choice. As of NCLB, students and parents gained significant school choice rights with the ability to opt-out of low performing schools to instead attend other institutions in the district. These alternative options included other district schools as well as charter schools and some private schools. In addition, Title IV: 21st Century Schools includes grants for charter schools and magnet schools totaling near half a billion dollars. School choice proponents critical of ESSA have complained that Title I funds for low-income children were not made fully portable, and this relates to overall ideas regarding and debates on school choice. If you would like to support such full portability, then write a bill within the framework of ESEA that modifies such requirements. You can act as a proponent for vouchers as a mechanism for school choice without trampling on protections provided to millions of students and eliminating initiatives that help students, teachers, parents, and schools. Remove Section 102 of HR 610 and then develop a proposal focused specifically on funds portability. In all honesty, the current trend towards bills that simply throw things out and fail to even consider the aspects of that thing that are valuable is infuriating. Please develop proposals that are thoughtful, well structured, and comprehensive. Please make it evident that you have a clue what you are throwing out and what the likely consequences of doing so will be. Please facilitate maintaining positive aspects while addressing negatives, and please provide support for addressing consequences.
4) ESEA and its reauthorizations have been bipartisan. Your “nay” on ESSA was echoed by only 63 fellow representatives and 17 senators. That means that 359 representatives and 81 senators voted to approve ESSA. NCLB received an even wider margin of support with the House approving 384-45 and the Senate approving 91-8. The initial ESEA in 1965 was slightly more contentious with 263-135 in the House and 73-18 in the Senate, but the pattern is clear. These protections and supports are widely supported by Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. This bipartisanship reflects the valuable role that ESEA plays in access to and support of education.