While both parties in Congress agree it is imperative to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), that’s where agreement ends. The House Republicans, led by Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), have introduced a reauthorization bill that fails to provide millions of students—who are primarily low-income, English language learners, and students of color—with an opportunity to attend high-quality, equitable schools. No wonder Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Democrats call this bill the “Letting Students Down Act.”
Beyond the political bickering, what’s really in the bill and why should you care? Here are three reasons:
1: It makes slashing budgets easier. There’s a federal requirement that ensures that states and districts maintain their year-to-year share of education funding. It’s meant to prevent districts from making unprincipled cuts to budgets and to provide schools with reliable annual funding. The House Republican bill eliminates this federal requirement that ensures states and districts maintain their year-to-year share of education funding. Already cash-strapped schools need reliable funding sources. This isn’t new to House Republicans. The education bill they introduced last year included the same provision.
2. It allows for low expectations. The House Republican bill does not require states to set performance targets for schools and it does not require states to measure growth in student achievement. As a result, the bill does little to ensure that the most disadvantaged children are prepared for college, careers, and future success. A reauthorized ESEA must ensure that state standards are rigorous and require states to set targets and goals to assess whether they are closing achievement gaps and improving graduate rates. The House Republican bill does neither. In fact, when Majority Leader Cantor’s own state had the flexibility to set its own annual academic achievement targets, Virginia’s initial plan included lower academic targets for Black students compared to their white counterparts. This outraged many and forced Virginia officials to rewrite its accountability plan.
3. It continues inequities in funding. One of the primary roles the federal government plays in education is providing extra dollars to schools with large proportions of low-income students in order to narrow the gap in funding between high- and low-poverty schools. The House Republican bill does nothing to close a loophole that allows many districts to underfund high-poverty schools. This means that millions of low-income students are being shortchanged compared to their wealthier peers, and unfortunately these are also often schools with higher concentrations of minority students. Schools that are 90 percent nonwhite spend $773 less per-pupil than the mostly white schools, meaning that on average, high-minority schools lose out on $443,000 each year. The House Republican bill has an unprecedented opportunity to change this country’s long-standing practice of providing high-need schools with the least amount of resources, yet it does nothing to do so.
This country cannot afford to let down its most disadvantaged youth. The Senate Democrats have offered a forward thinking plan that ensures that every child, regardless of background, has the opportunity to attend schools that prepare them for future success. For more details about how House Republicans got it wrong, and a “smarter, progressive vision for renewing ESEA,” read a new Center for American Progress column by Melissa Lazarín.
Tiffany Miller is the Associate Director for School Improvement at the Center for American Progress.