Reauthorization of ESEA Must Include Federal Oversight and Accountability, says LDF

(Washington, DC) – Today, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) joined Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Deputy Secretary John King, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), other civil rights advocates, teachers, and students in a Capitol Hill roundtable discussion about education policy and funding as the debate around reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) continues in Congress.

LDF emphasized the importance of maintaining federal oversight and accountability that have been hallmarks of the law since its inception fifty years ago. In 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson called the newly enacted ESEA “a major new commitment of the federal government, to quality and equality in the schooling we offer our young people.”  Johnson envisioned ESEA as a lever out of poverty, providing federal aid to help mitigate the effects of concentrated poverty and inequitable local funding and opening access to quality education for low-income children and children of color. While that federal role has stood for over half a century, the House and Senate ESEA reauthorization bills take the unprecedented steps of eviscerating that federal role.

“It is critical to maintain the spirit and vision of the original ESEA as this important civil rights legislation is finalized,” says Janel George, Senior Education Policy Counsel at LDF.  “We must maintain a federal mechanism to hold states accountable for addressing inequities, especially those impacting sub-groups of students–including students of color, students with disabilities, English Learners, and low-income students–to ensure that we close achievement gaps and improve high school graduation rates”

The current iterations of the ESEA bills lack accountability and fail to preserve the ability of the federal government to intervene when states do not meaningfully close achievement gaps, equitably distribute resources, or promote inclusive school climates. As such, it is essentially rendered ineffective.  

LDF’s priorities for ESEA passage are as follows:

  1.  Strong Federal Oversight and Accountability Role: Maintenance of a strong federal oversight and accountability role that provides a mechanism for federal intervention in the form of supports and services when states fall short in ensuring that all students have access to quality educational opportunities.  
  2.  Meaningful Resource Equity: A strong ESEA bill must include provisions that require state action to address documented inequities (reflected in indicators collected under the Office for Civil Rights Data Collection). The law must ensure that schools receive the resources necessary for students to succeed, including access to rigorous college-and-career ready courses, fully-certified and experienced educators, science labs and equipment, and school counselors.   
  3. Data: Comprehensive and accurate data collection must be maintained in order to ensure that we have a clear and accurate picture of how students are faring in schools. This data should be disaggregated by race, ethnicity (including AAPI sub-groups), and gender.
  4. Maintain Targeted Federal Funding: A final ESEA bill must preserve Title I funding that is intended to serve districts serving high proportions of students from low-income families.  This funding provides critical resources and services needed to address the unique needs of low-income students and mitigate the effects of concentrated poverty.  
  5. Positive and Inclusive School Climates: LDF supports ensuring that school climate is a factor in measuring school effectiveness. LDF supports positive and inclusive discipline practices like restorative practices, peer mediation, and school-wide behavioral supports to help keep kids in school so that they can thrive and learn.