Replacement of No Child Left Behind Act causing problems in Washington
WASHINGTON — A new education law applauded for replacing the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act has become embroiled in criticism that it could wreak havoc on local school funding and teacher contracts.
Six months after President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act — declaring it a Christmas miracle — the dispute over his administration's effort to enforce it has created unusual battle lines. Key Republican lawmakers, state governors, and the teacher unions are on one side and recently confirmed U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr., Democratic lawmakers and leaders of the civil rights community on the other.
Like its predecessor, the Every Student Succeeds Act is scheduled to be passed every few years to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Act, signed into law originally in 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his War on Poverty.
The latest act aims to reduce the emphasis on testing while preparing high school graduates for college and a career, targeting resources toward schools with high drop-out rates, empowering local officials to develop their own programs for school improvement and providing more access to high-quality preschool.
But critics worry implementation and regulations of it will violate the law.
What King is pushing for
At the center of the dispute is Title 1, a major provision in the original 1965 law that provides lower-income students with additional federal funding, and the "Supplement Not Supplant" provision, which ensures local schools do not use federal funds to replace local and state money.
Title 1 remains the largest of the law's grant programs with $14.9 billion for the current fiscal year.
Despite progress leading to record graduation rates, significant reductions in drop-out rates for African-American and Latino students and increased college enrollment, King said too many schools offer disadvantaged students less access to the best teachers, most challenging courses and services more affluent students take for granted.
"This is critically important because despite the end of separate but equal, 70 percent of all African-American or Latino students and 70 percent of low-income students attend Title 1 schools," he said.
King's effort has drawn the support of Democratic senators such as Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whose positions on such issues have made her a star among her party's liberal wing, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who energized those same people with his run for the White House, and Richard Durbin of Illinois, who currently holds his party's No. 2 leadership post in the Senate.
"It is critical that the Department ensures that states are not circumventing Congressional intent by using this funding to backfill shortfalls in state and local funding due to irresponsible, inequitable, or unfair budgeting decisions," they stated in a letter to King, citing the past record of some to use Title 1 dollars to actually subsidize inequitable funding practices on the local level.
Leading members of the civil rights community including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Children's Defense Fund, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza and the National Urban League also spoke up.
"Without robust clarity in regulations for the oversight of this provision of the law, the integrity of federal Title 1 dollars will be undermined and low-income students will be deprived of the supports and services they need and deserve," stated a letter from more then two dozen groups.
But there are critics
Opposition to the Education Department's approach has been strong, and perhaps the most vocal critic has been Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.