In a major step, the U.S. Senate overhauled No Child Left Behind, passing a measure that would affect kids both in school and out of school.
The Senate and House must build a compromise on the legislation in conference committee, but many education and youth advocates breathed a sigh of relief.
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia called the action “a paradigm shift,” as it moves away from one-size-fits-all testing that educators know hurts students, she said in a statement.
Under the new bill, Every Child Achieves, students must still take annual reading and math tests, but much control is shifted to the states, which would decide how to use the tests in assessing schools and students.
Both House and Senate versions of the bill allow for opting out of standardized testing, but the Senate lets states decide whether parents can remove their kids from tests.
Senators rejected an amendment that would have allowed federal funding to follow low-income students to another public or private school.
Leaders of the NAACP and several other civil rights groups said the shift away from federal authority undermines protections for minority students, low-income students, English language learners and students with disabilities.
"While the bill includes data reporting requirements to show achievement gaps or resource inequities, it does not include incentives for states to address opportunity or achievement gaps," noted the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund statement.
However, advocates for after-school and expanded learning were relieved.
The legislation “strengthen[s] our children’s future by preserving dedicated funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, in a statement. The organization seeks to strengthen out-of-school time programs.
The 21st Century Community Learning Centers serve 1.6 million children in low-income areas nationwide in before-school, after-school and summer learning programs. Supporters see the program as important in closing the achievement gap between low-income youth and more affluent ones.
However, the Senate bill failed to include a provision that would create protections for LGBTQ students from bullying.
And an amendment sought by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Al Franken, D-Minn., that would have protected foster children from being forced to change schools never reached a vote.
The bill names music and arts as core subjects, pleasing such groups as the National Association for Music Education.
“Senators from across the country are acknowledging that these subjects should be national education priorities,” said Chris Woodside, the organization’s assistant executive director.
“That’s really big, and we’re grateful,” he said in a statement.
The crafting of the Every Child Achieves Act was hailed as a rare example of bipartisan cooperation. It was sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, who worked closely with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
The House version of the bill, the Student Success Act, was not created with bipartisan support.
Both bills reauthorize the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is the latest version.
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