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Senate passes AFT-supported ESEA overhaul bill

7/20/2015
Last week, AFT members from around the country were key to the U.S. Senate passing the Every Child Achieves Act, an AFT-supported, bipartisan bill that overhauls the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and its last version, the No Child Left Behind Act.
 
The AFT fought for many important components of the bill to ensure that it:
•    Does not impose federal mandates on teacher evaluation;
•    Maintains fiscal equity of the original ESEA;
•    Maintains class size provisions;
•    Does not impose mandated federal interventions (School Improvement Grants, school closings);
•    Provides for the conduct of a working conditions survey (inspired by AFT’s workplace stress survey);
•    Authorizes full-service community schools;
•    Caps time spent on testing;
•    Maintains qualification requirements for paraprofessionals;
•    And more.
 
AFT President Randi Weingarten issued this statement upon the passage of the Senate bill:
"The Every Child Achieves Act, which passed the Senate today, represents a fundamental and positive change of direction for public education. It sends a powerful message that equity really matters and that schooling must be more about teaching and learning than testing and measuring. More must be done to address the needs of historically disadvantaged children, but this bill offers a significant piece of the puzzle. The soul of the Senate bill, including the addition of the community schools program today, maintains the commitment to target funds to public schools educating large populations of disadvantaged students and overhauls No Child Left Behind by resetting accountability by eliminating the test-and-punish policies that have narrowed the curriculum but not the achievement gap.
 
"In this era of division and polarization, the Senate bipartisan bill matters a lot. But we need a law, not just a bill. America’s students, educators and parents are counting on Congress to use the Senate bill as the basis for a law that President Obama will sign. If that is accomplished, the message is that Washington is serious about wanting to help our kids succeed. We commend Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) for putting aside partisanship to collaborate and help produce this bill."
The U.S. House of Representatives has also passed a version of an ESEA reauthorization bill, the Student Success Act of 2015. The AFT opposed the legislation because it does not maintain targeted funding for disadvantaged children, but is an important step and does include some gains for which the AFT has advocated.

The two bills will now need to be reconciled in conference. While there is more work ahead to shape a final bill and have it signed into law, AFT President Weingarten said that thanks to members’ letters, calls, lobby days, and meetings with lawmakers, “we are closer than we have been in more than 14 years to getting relief from the testing madness and the "sanction, close and punish schools" climate of the past decade.”

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