Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

The need to fix American public schools has been a major component of political battles in recent years, with rhetoric around over-testing and “failing” schools dominating airtime. Yet Congress has found little common ground in their quest to update the existing education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), until now. For the first time in over a decade, passage of a reauthorization of NCLB (originally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), looks promising in the 114th Congress.

Most education stakeholders, from politicians to American families, believe an update to the law is long overdue. NCFL agrees, and has been providing information to Congress to improve statutes on family literacy and family engagement so that families are better incorporated into the public school system.

In the 114th Congress, Republicans have control of both the House and Senate. However, for any bill to be signed into law by President Obama there must be considerable negotiation with Democrats. The House passed a Republican-supported ESEA reauthorization bill (H.R. 5) early this year. However, Senate leaders from both parties have demonstrated their commitment to producing a truly bipartisan bill.

After nearly seven months of intense and unprecedented bipartisan negotiation between Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), a bill, S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA), was passed by the Senate on July 16, 2015 by a vote of 81-17. ECAA reflects a compromise between Democrats and Republicans, and many believe it has the potential to be signed into law. The bill proposes a significant reduction of the federal role in K-12 education while preserving certain statutory requirements for annual assessments in reading and math, public reporting of disaggregated data on student outcomes and ranking schools based on their ratings.

Throughout the Senate debate, NCFL successfully shared information with lawmakers supporting the inclusion of family literacy and strong family engagement provisions in ECAA. Title II of ECAA would authorize the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) program to improve student academic achievement in reading and writing. The grant program provides support to States to create comprehensive literacy plans for students from early education through grade 12, including through family literacy. Additionally, an amendment that would enhance parent and family engagement in early learning, sponsored by Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), was adopted. When Donnelly took to the floor to speak about his amendment, he thanked NCFL for their support of the field.

Lawmakers from both sides of the Capitol have expressed their desire to produce a bill that will garner the signature of the President. A conference committee between the Senate and the House is expected to meet this fall to iron out the differences between the two bills and produce one final product, and NCFL will continue to provide information that supports family literacy and family engagement. Lawmakers must continue to strike a balance during conference- one that ensures both Republican and Democratic support- to get an ESEA reauthorization across the finish line.