Today, the Senate passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) by a vote of 85 to 12, assuring the bill’s advancement to President Obama for his signature.
The ESSA is the 2015 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a landmark civil rights law that has helped to ensure equal access to quality educational opportunities for all students, regardless of income or geography, since its enactment in 1965. While we recognize the need to replace the most recent iteration of ESEA–the No Child Left Behind Act–and its punitive sanctions, as well as the urgency to create certainty for the many states operating under conditional waivers, we remain concerned about several of the ESSA’s provisions–namely the unnecessary restrictions it places on the federal oversight role in education.
This is federal oversight and accountability role has long been recognized as essential to protecting the civil rights of all students. Following an era of massive resistance following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, the statutory protections embodied in the original ESEA were designed to ensure that states provided quality educational opportunities to all children, including those traditionally marginalized by state and local educational systems. The ESSA diminishes this historical role by imposing prohibitions on federal oversight and authority.
Therefore, in order for the ESSA to truly be a civil rights law, we must remain vigilant to ensure that the Administration uses its remaining authority to issue timely and strong regulations and guidance to help states implement the law. “Implementation begins now by putting officials on notice that advocates, parents, and students are expecting actors at all levels–federal, state, and local–to work to ensure that the law truly ensures equal educational opportunity for all children,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director Counsel of LDF. “We urge timely and robust regulations and guidance to steer implementation and we will hold states to their assurances that they will do the right thing for all children.” States must also ensure that parents and community advocates are involved in educational decision-making, and that the needs of students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students are incorporated into interventions. Strong implementation will determine whether this bill helps to fulfill Brown’s promise to ensure equal access to quality educational opportunities, so that all students can succeed and thrive.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in all media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.