On April 7, 2015, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray released the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015” — legislation that would reauthorize the ESEA/NCLB. The HELP Committee will begin marking up the bill on Tuesday, April 14, at 10:00 a.m. There will be an open amendment process, and we expect the markup to last through Wednesday, April 15, at a minimum. The HELP Committee has released a summary of the bill.
While the bill has several laudable provisions, and we are pleased to see a bipartisan bill from the Senate HELP committee, National PTA is deeply concerned regarding the lack of improvement in family engagement provisions in the Every Child Achieves Act. We will work to secure improvements to the bill during markup and beyond.
This document serves to provide general background on the ESEA as well as a brief review and analysis of family engagement provisions and National PTA policy priorities included or excluded in the Alexander/Murray bill.
General Background on Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the most recent iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), was enacted in January of 2002. ESEA, as is the case with most federal laws, is authorized in five year intervals, meaning that ESEA/NCLB has been up for reauthorization since 2007. Congress has attempted comprehensive reauthorization numerous times since 2007; however, political road blocks have prevented a bipartisan agreement. In the absence of reauthorization, the Department of Education has issued flexibility packages around certain provisions of ESEA. To date, 42 states and DC have been granted waivers.
In February 2015, the House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee passed the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) out of committee along party lines, with all Republicans in support of the bill and all Democrats opposed. The bill received floor time in the House the week of February 23; however, the bill was pulled from final consideration over concerns that there were not enough votes to secure passage. House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline indicated he would like the bill to return to the floor the week of April 13.
Please find below a summary of provisions in the Every Child Achieves Act related to family engagement and National PTA’s public policy agenda.
Parent and Family Engagement
Section 1118 of ESEA/NCLB, which addresses family and parent engagement, is re-designated in the Alexander/Murray bill as Section 1115. The bill does not strengthen family engagement provisions that National PTA has been advocating for including:
- An increase in Title I funds set aside for family engagement from 1 to 2%. Existing law directs schools receiving more than $500,000 in Title I dollars to set aside a minimum of 1% for family and parent engagement activities. The bill maintains current law. Increasing funds set aside is a top priority for National PTA and is included in base language of the Family Engagement in Education Act (S. 622/H.R. 1194). We are disappointed that the Every Child Achieves Act does not reflect an increase in resources for family engagement.
- Embedding National PTA’s Standards for Family-School Partnerships in local education agency plans.
- Establishment of the Family Engagement Responsibility Fund. The Family Engagement in Education Act would establish this fund using a .3% mandatory set-aside from Title I funds to establish statewide and local family engagement centers.
Consultation of a local family engagement plan: The bill includes language that a local education agency (LEA) “may include meaningful consultation with employers, business leaders and philanthropic organizations, or individuals with expertise in effectively engaging parents and family members in education.” (pg. 154, (B)) National PTA has advocated for an expansion of those who must be meaningfully consulted when developing a family and parent engagement plan at the local level such as:
- Parents and family members of students,
- Youth who have graduated from schools in a LEA,
- Local employers, business leaders and philanthropic organizations,
- Other members of the community committed to increasing student academic achievement and improving child development,
- Individuals with expertise in engaging parents and family members, and
- Organizations that have a demonstrated record of effectiveness in assisting students in becoming college and career ready.
Distribution of Title I set-aside funds: The Every Child Achieves Act updates the distribution of Title I set-aside funds from 95% to 85%. Current law dictates that not less than 95% of LEA funding for family and parent engagement activities go directly to schools. This legislation would update the percentage to 85%. National PTA and language in the Family Engagement in Education Act has sought to amend the percentage to 75% to respond to feedback from schools that certain activities – such as parent academies – that are provided at the LEA level but serve parents in local schools, were not available for these district-wide activities.
Allowable Use of Funds: The legislation includes parameters (pg. 157, lines 6 -25 & pg. 158, lines 1 -17) around the use of an LEA’s Title I set-aside funds to include not less than 1 of the following:
- Supporting schools and nonprofit organizations in providing professional development for local educational agency and school personnel regarding parent and family engagement strategies, which may be provided jointly to teachers, school leaders, early childhood educators, and parents and family members.
- Supporting home visitation programs.
- Disseminating information on best practices focused on parent and family engagement, especially best practices for increasing the engagement of economically disadvantaged parents and family members.
- Collaborating or providing subgrants to schools to enable such schools to collaborate with community-based or other organizations or employers with a demonstrated track record of success in improving and increasing parent and family engagement. Other organizations could include PTAs.
- Engaging in any other activities and strategies that the local educational agency determines are appropriate and consistent with such agency’s parent and family engagement policy, which may include adult education and literacy activities, as defined in section 203 of the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act.
There are some similarities to this language and uses of funds in S. 622/H.R. 1194 for local family engagement centers.
Parent Information Resource Centers (PIRCs)
The Every Child Achieves Act strikes Title V, Part D of the ESEA/NCLB, which includes authorization of the Parental Assistance and Local Family Information Centers (subpart 16), also known as PIRCs and the Arts in Education (subpart 15). Additionally, by eliminating Part D of the ESEA/NCLB, currently authorized programs such as the elementary and secondary school counseling program and the Carol M. White physical education program, in addition to PIRCs and Arts in Education which help to provide a well-rounded education and supports to students and families will result in the unintended consequence of preventing children from having access to as diverse range of supports necessary for them to reach their full potential.
National PTA is extremely concerned about the elimination of PIRCs and that there is no new language in this bill to support statewide infrastructure or capacity building for family engagement. The Student Success Act (H.R. 5) authorizes Statewide Family Engagement Centers as a replacement for the existing Parental Information Resource Centers. This revised program is intended to help strengthen family engagement through assistance to states, school districts, teachers, and families. If PIRCs are eliminated, National PTA believes there must be a program to support family engagement.
Note: Language in the Family Engagement in Education Act (FEE) of 2015 shifts funding from a standalone authorization for the PIRC program (as is current statute) to a mandatory set-aside of no less than .3% of Title I dollars at the state level for family engagement activities – which would include a statewide family engagement center and a local family engagement center (certain small states would have an exemption if the .3% set aside is not adequate to establish state and local family engagement center). The FEE Act serves to represent the best policy to improve family engagement in education long-term. Additionally, with the defunding of the PIRC program in 2011 – it is unlikely that the PIRC program will be appropriated in the current fiscal environment. A shift to a marginal set-aside of Title I dollars represents a more sustainable source of funding for schools long-term.
Additional National PTA Policy Priorities
Title I Portability: National PTA is extremely pleased to see that the Every Child Achieves Act does not include any Title I portability language. National PTA has strenuously advocated against any proposal such as vouchers or portability that would undermine Title I’s fundamental purpose of assisting public schools with high concentrations of poverty and high-need students.
Disaggregated Data: Every Child Achieves Act maintains the annual reporting of disaggregated data of groups of children which provides valuable information to parents, families, teachers and communities on whether students are achieving and whether schools are meeting the particular needs of low-income, minority, students with disabilities, and English learners.
State-based accountability system: The bill also requires states to establish an accountability system that expects all students to graduate from high school ready for college or work. The bill ends the federal test-based accountability system of No Child Left Behind, restoring to states the responsibility for determining how to use federally required tests for accountability purposes. States must include these tests in their accountability systems, but will be able to determine the weight of those tests in their systems. States will also be required to include graduation rates, one measure of postsecondary education or workforce readiness, and English proficiency for English learners. States will also be permitted to include other measures of student and school performance in their accountability systems in order to provide teachers, parents, and other stakeholders with a more accurate determination of school performance, including statewide measures of parent engagement and school climate and culture.
Use of alternative assessment for students with disabilities: Additionally, the legislation includes a 1% cap on the number of students with significant cognitive disabilities who can take alternative assessments for accountability purposes. National PTA has been concerned that other ESEA/NCLB reauthorization bills have eliminated the cap on the use of alternative assessments.
Maintenance of Effort: The bill keeps in place “maintenance of effort” requirements, which help ensure that states and localities maintain a certain level of funding in order to receive federal investments in education and do not unnecessarily cut support for education programs and use federal dollars as a replacement of state and local funds to support children and families in the community.
Early Education: The Every Child Achieves Act ensures that federal funds can be allocated for early childhood education, by clarifying that states, school districts, and schools can spend ESEA dollars to improve early childhood education programs. These provisions apply to various titles including Title I, Title II (supports for teachers and school leaders) and Title III (programs serving English learners).