As ESEA Debate Continues, Grassroots Voices Weigh In

After months of debate, federal lawmakers seem to be getting serious about a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and this week Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray released a bipartisan "compromise bill" that could have important implications for schools, students and teachers nationwide.

The 600-page bill would continue some of the most controversial components of ESEA's most recent iteration, No Child Left Behind, including the mandated annual testing in math and reading and grants to support charter school expansion. 

In a victory for education justice organizers, the proposed bill doesn't include the Republican-supported idea of "Title 1 portability," which would have siphoned funding away from schools serving large percentages of low-income students. It also reflects a growing movement to end harsh and discriminatory school discipline policies by requiring states to collect and publish data on aspects of school culture like suspension rates and referrals to law enforcement. Lastly, the bill acknowledges the increasing importance of early childhood education by allowing ESEA funds to go towards programs for our nation's youngest learners.

You can read more details about the proposed bill here

Also worth highlighting is some of the commentary and demands from education organizers who have been weighing in on the ESEA reauthorization debate. This week, the OTL Campaign was proud to join over 100 grassroots community and labor groups with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools to release an open letter to Congressional leaders urging them to support the development of full-service community schools, end the school-to-prison pipeline, halt federal funding for charter school expansion, and maintain the Title I program.

From the letter:

"We believe that the only way to give every child the opportunity to pursue a rich and productive life both individually and as a member of society, is through a system of publicly funded, equitable and democratically controlled public schools. We believe that the federal government plays a critical role in ensuring that opportunity.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was enacted 50 years ago next month. It was 1965—a full decade had passed since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board of Education that our nation’s public schools should be integrated and that Black and Brown students deserved the same resources as more affluent and White children. Yet, in that decade, almost no progress had been made. By 1964, less than 1% of Black children across the South were attending schools with White children. Northern states, too, were refusing to integrate and equalize resources in their schools.

Congress and the President knew that if it was left up to the states, poor children would continue to languish in sub-standard, segregated schools. In passing ESEA, Congress specifically recognized a federal role in ensuring that low-income children have access to the resources and supports that they needed to succeed.

Today, that role is more critical than ever."

Read the full letter and list of signers here.

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