The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) has vigorously promoted educational equity over its seventy-five year existence. Since its passage in 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has served as our nation’s best promise for providing greater access to quality educational opportunities for all of our children. This federal civil rights law has helped to hold states accountable for ensuring that factors such as income or geography are not barriers to quality education. The conference report of the reauthorized bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, continues to advance some of those goals in important ways, but falls short in other key respects.
Because of our longstanding commitment to the principles of the ESEA, LDF has worked with Congress over the past year to preserve civil rights protections during reauthorization of this seminal legislation. We appreciate the political climate that has produced the compromises reflected in the Every Student Succeeds Act. We extend appreciation to the leadership and staff of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and the House Education and the Workforce Committee, particularly Ranking Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA-3).
While we have concerns about several provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act, we recognize the need to promote certainty for students and schools by updating No Child Left Behind, the prior iteration of ESEA that was universally viewed as inadequate to promote quality education for our children. We believe that the Every Student Succeeds Act represents an improvement over the waiver system currently in place to address the deficiencies of No Child Left Behind.
However, we are deeply disappointed with provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act that diminish the longstanding federal footprint and relegate significant discretion to the states. The cornerstone of the ESEA has always been federal oversight and accountability. In signing the ESEA into law in 1965, President Johnson remarked that it was “a major new commitment of the federal government to quality and equality in the schooling that we offer our young people.” The law placed conditions upon states for receipt of federal education funds and subsequently strengthened federal oversight and accountability over state and local funding to ensure compliance with federal law.
This federal role is essential. When responsibility for education is left to the sole discretion of states, it is often the most vulnerable students, especially students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities, who are deprived of quality educational opportunities. Current research and data are testament to these persistent disparities. We are particularly concerned about states and localities that have been resistant to dealing with issues of race and equity, as we see in many of our ongoing school desegregation cases. To the extent that this bill restricts that federal role, then proper implementation will be critical to ensure that states and localities recognize and address the needs of the most vulnerable students.
Several provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act can be viewed as positive developments. For example, the bill maintains data collection provisions, which help to shed light on achievement gaps, graduation rates, and discipline disparities. The bill provides for disaggregation of data by student sub-group (race, ethnicity, disability status, English Learner status) and cross-tabulation by gender to enhance understanding of educational status. The bill also ensures collection of data on school-based arrests, expulsions, and suspensions. In light of research showing that African-American girls are six times more likely than their white peers to be suspended or expelled, such data provides critical information about existing and pervasive disparities and helps to identify areas to target interventions.
In view of the limitations of the Every Student Succeeds Act, it will be incumbent upon our federal, state, and local officials to ensure that the original purpose of the ESEA is honored. We urge the Administration to exercise its remaining federal obligations as fully as possible and to timely implement all necessary interpretative regulations and guidance. Importantly, LDF will also look to states and local educational agencies to fulfill their responsibilities and act to remedy disparities, such as resource inequities, high discipline rates among students of color, and achievement gaps. It will also be critical to include advocates, educators, parents, and students in the decision-making processes at all governmental levels, including in the design and implementation of interventions to help low-performing schools. We will remain vigilant to safeguard the civil rights of our nation’s most marginalized students, and we demand no less from our federal, state, and local governments.
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 media attributions as the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund or LDF.