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Black Opinions

U.S. Senate Education Bill Betrays Law’s Civil Rights Legacy

By Wade Henderson

(Trice Edney Wire) – Congress is currently debating a long overdue reauthorization of the nation’s preeminent civil rights education law – the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Without major fixes to the bill, Congress should just go back to the drawing board.

Since its passage in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, ESEA has been our nation’s driving force for educational equity. For students of color, students with disabilities, Native students, English learners, and low-income students, a strong ESEA is vital to ensuring that states and school districts are living up to their obligation to provide a quality education to all on an equal basis—not just for the most privileged or wealthy.

The current Senate ESEA bill, the Every Child Achieves Act, betrays the law’s rich legacy and would actually weaken protections for the students it’s intended to serve. And the House’s proposal is abhorrent and would be an unmitigated disaster for vulnerable students.

But we think that the Every Child Achieves Act can be improved on the Senate floor with four fixes that would expand opportunities, resources, and outcomes for all students.

First, the bill must hold schools and districts accountable for educating all students.

Second, ESEA must provide the transparency and data that families and communities need to advocate for their children.

Third, ESEA must require states to intervene to correct the massive resource disparities that plague our nation’s schools.

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And, finally, there must be proper oversight from the U.S. Department of Education to make sure that federal funds are used to protect vulnerable students and the law is implemented well.

Without these fixes, this reauthorization would be a betrayal of ESEA’s legacy as a civil rights education bill and it will be opposed by the civil rights and disability rights communities.

Wade Henderson is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national civil rights groups.

Read entire editorial in New Journal and Guide, July 9-15, 2015.

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