Right this very moment in the U.S. Senate, Senators are debating amendments being offered to the Senate-side bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, the current version commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind). Given that we have a sitting Senator (Bernie Sanders, I-VT) involved in the process and a past Senator (Hillery Clinton, D-NY) with a history of advocacy on behalf of children and families, and both are vying for the nomination of the Democratic Party as its presidential nominee, what happens this summer with ESEA reauthorization — failed or successful — will reverberate beyond into the 2016 elections.
Already, many sharp observers and early supporters have many questions about Sanders’ hand in shaping the Senate bill Every Child Achieves Act through the HELP Committee. We hope on the campaign trail that public education-minded voters ask him about his role in helping to write that legislation with other Senate Democrats.
By all liberal-left accounts, Every Child Achieves is far better than the House bill, which passed with all GOP votes (and 27 GOP defections siding with all Democrats who opposed).
A couple notes: much power has been trimmed from the federal DOE and given back to the states, for better or worse. And a cluster of bills or amendments are quietly changing the nature of Program Improvement for low-achieving schools.
Chief among these are the Community School cluster of bills:
HR 718: the big kahuna. This would firmly ensconce Community Schools as a form of aid to Title I schools.
Why is this important? Because it’s not enough to get rid of the damaging Race to the Top incentives that controlled states through funding awards and shunted them down the path to “school turnarounds,” closures, or offered charter schools as seemingly the sole solution.
If we have 51% of children living in poverty, then we need systems-wide supports and assistance to those schools. Those include the on-site school health clinics, jobs training and coaching for parents/guardian adults, parenting classes and support networks, assistance with social service agencies, and adult education. Community schools offer all those enhancements, recognizing that before any achievement gap can be bridged, an opportunity gap that starts before a child is even born will impede that child’s progress unless bridged. This bill died in the sausage-making that was HR5, but its spirit lives on and the strategy to replace RTTT with Community School solutions is a good one.
SB 1710: this amendment would alter Title IV to pair a grant mechanism with the community-based needs assessment to supplement existing neighborhood public schools with additional services from the surrounding region. We should welcome expansion of proven and locally-grounded Community Schools models and additional funding to invest in distressed communities. Too often we ask our schools to be islands of hope in a sea of dysfunction. We need to change that sea of dysfunction. So far funding for Community Schools has been minimal (about $10 million in past appropriations) and so to move funding into the ESEA reauthorization is a big deal. That means more permanance and more money to create new Community Schools. Compare with what charter schools get:
Here’s what we need to do NOW:
Urge your Senator to vote in favor of Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) Senate Amendment 2100 to the Every Child Achieves Act. Take action here.
Here’s what we need to do to build a thriving public education system for the FUTURE:
Urge presidential candidate Sanders to make Community Schools the centerpiece of his education platform.
H.R. 718 is the key: it would alter Title I so that Community Schools would be a primary means for addressing family and child poverty. We know that achievement, college-going rates, and so many other indicators of school success are indexed to family and community poverty or wealth. This is imperative. We can no longer trifle with occasional lifeboats (in the shape of charter schools) for what is a surging tide of systemic economic failure for far too many.