Reauthorization of education law said to put ‘needs of children first’

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In reauthorizing the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the House and Senate have made “significant improvements for providing equitable services for students and teachers in religious, private and independent schools,” said a U.S. archbishop.

Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska, made the comments as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education.

The Senate passed its reauthorization measure, the Every Child Achieves Act, July 16. The House of Representatives passed its version, the Student Success Act, July 8. The votes were cast along party lines.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, was first enacted in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and is the most far-reaching federal legislation affecting education to be passed by Congress. It has to be reauthorized every five years.

Since it was first enacted, it has provided for “an equitable share of services and benefits” to students in need, regardless of whether they attend a public or private school, according to Archbishop Lucas.

The reauthorization measures are “a testament to what can be achieved when we put the needs of children first,” he said in a July 16 statement. “The members of Congress, by passing legislation to reauthorize ESEA have put us one step closer towards restoring equity and ensuring that all children are afforded the educational services, benefits and opportunity our government has to offer, regardless of the type of school they attend.”

One of the most well-known reauthorizations of the 1965 law was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, signed into law by President George W. Bush, which led to an increased federal role in local school districts.

According to Republican sponsors in both chambers, their respective measures scale back the role of the federal government in overseeing public education and give states more flexibility in designing accountability systems and consolidate dozens of federal education programs. They also allow states to distribute federal money to districts and schools.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was one of the authors of the Every Child Achieves Act as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“Whenever Alaskans and I talked about the No Child Left Behind law, it was clear that no one — educators, students, parents, or tribes — was happy,” she said in a floor speech July 16. “The one-size-fits-all mandates … were not working. … States will again be able to decide what qualifications and skills to demand of teachers and principals, whether to have a statewide evaluation system, and if so, whether those evaluations include growth in student proficiency.”

In the House when the Student Success Act passed out of the Education and Workforce Committee, the chairman said it would help “provide American families the education system they deserve, not the one Washington wants.”

Republican Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who is chairman, said the reauthorization measure will help “every child in every school receive an excellent education.”

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