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ESEA: The Story in Congress So Far

The Story so FarWe've been talking your ear off about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) these last few weeks. Why? Because the story of ESEA is the story of accountability for students with disabilities. If we want students with learning disabilities (LD) to be counted and to be held to the same high expectations as all other students, we need to win this battle.

If you need a refresher on ESEA and No Child Left Behind, please read our previous blog post "What You Need to Know About ESEA Reauthorization". For those of you who have been following our calls to action, here is a summary of the story so far.


The month of June started with members in both houses of Congress introducing bills to reauthorize ESEA.

What Happened in the Senate? Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced an ESEA reauthorization bill – the Strengthening America’s Schools Act (SASA) – in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. SASA moves in the right direction by setting targets in reading and math as well as graduation goals for all students, and by providing targeted support for students who are struggling, including students with disabilities.

SASA was passed by the HELP committee. Over 40 amendments were offered to SASA, and ten passed. The committee rejected a substitute bill from Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that included a very harmful provision allowing any form of alternate testing for any student with a disability. This policy, if it became law, would hurt millions of students’ opportunities to complete high school ready for college and career. Read our letter to Senator Alexander describing our concerns. In addition, the committee rejected an amendment by Senator Johhny Isakson (R-Ga) that also would have allowed unlimited alternate assessments on alternate standards for students with disabilities.

Overall, the result in the Senate is positive and we hope that the next step for SASA is the floor of the Senate.

What Happened in the House of Representatives? Representative John Kline (R-MN) introduced the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) in the House Education and the Workforce (EW) Committee. Unfortunately, this bill undermines accountability by removing academic goals and supports for students with LD and by allowing alternate assessments on alternate standards to be given to an unlimited number of students with disabilities. If H.R.5 became law, millions of students with disabilities would be taken off the path to a high school diploma.

If that weren't enough, H.R.5 also fails to include any minimum standards to protect students from abusive practices of restraint and seclusion at school. These standards are included in other competing House and Senate bills.

In a joint statement, NCLD and three leading organizations – The Education Trust, National Council of La Raza, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – stated our opposition to H.R.5. We also submitted a letter to the EW Committee expressing our concerns.

As an alternative to H.R.5, Representative George Miller (D-CA) introduced a substitute bill that is much better for students with LD. This bill includes provisions on accountability, principles of universal design for learning, multi-tier system of supports (also known as response to intervention) and graduation goals for students. Unlike H.R.5, this substitute bill addresses restraint and seclusion practices. We submitted a statement in support of this bill.

On June 19, the House EW Committee debated H.R.5 and Representative Miller's substitute bill. Unfortunately, with a vote on party lines, the committee rejected Miller's substitute and passed H.R.5.

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What Happens Next?
The last few weeks saw a flurry of activity by NCLD to make sure that schools continue to be held accountable for students with LD. Our policy team worked directly with Congress to craft bills that would ensure that the interests of students with LD are included. Through our action alerts to parents, we delivered close to a thousand targeted emails and constituent contacts to elected officials in the space of a few days. We also sent our team of NCLD Parent Leaders to Washington, D.C., to take the message directly to Congress.

We now know that H.R.5 is headed for the floor of the House in the week of July 15. Please go to our action alert center and help us stop this bill.

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