The United States Senate has passed its bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization proposal, the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), by a final vote count of 81 to 17. The Senate’s action today is an important step forward in ensuring that all students-regardless of their socioeconomic status-experience the demonstrable positive impact that arts education has on learning and life.
Here is a sampling of reactions:
By naming music and arts as core subjects in the Every Child Achieves Act, the Senate has acknowledged and begun to address the national problem of the narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for more than a decade now.
The music education community has worked tirelessly to get the Senate’s bill to this point. Music education advocates have sent more than 14,000 letters to Capitol Hill on behalf of music teachers and students. There is bipartisan support for music and arts in this legislation– senators from across the country are acknowledging that these subjects should be national education priorities.
“It is our strong hope that a motivated Congress will remain focused on ensuring that music education orchestrates success in the lives of all students throughout America,” said Michael Butera, NAfME Executive Director and CEO. “Music energizes and elevates, it makes schools better, and it creates better employees and citizens, later on in life. We look forward to working with Congress to get a good bill across the finish line.”
During closing remarks on S.1177, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) expressed support for the bill and noted that the Senate was able to reach consensus on the urgent need to fix the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind). He stated that the bill keeps academic measures, while turning the rest of decisions over education to states and school districts that are closer to students, parents and communities. This point is relevant to our mission of strengthening access to music education and is empowered by the bill’s inclusion of the definition of core academic subjects, including music and the arts. He went on to say that over the past few years there has been a national school board and S.1177 will reverse that by putting an end to waivers, required evaluations, and adequate yearly progress. Ranking Committee Democrat Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) noted that under the current law there has been an over emphasis on test scores and that S.1177 will eliminate the one-size-fits-all approach, enabling teachers and parents to have a say in the education of students and to the goal of providing all students with a well-rounded education. She expressed that they have worked together to maintain federal protections in the bill to ensure that students graduate prepared to succeed. Finally, Senator Murray (D-WA) said that she will continue to work in conference to address accountability measures, a sticking point for civil rights groups.
From Americans for the Arts
In a statement, Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts said, “Arts education leaders across the country are looking for federal leadership, certainty, and support to ensure access to the arts for all students, in school and out of school. Today, we all can take pride in seeing a huge step toward achieving this goal with the Senate’s action. There is hope for an end to the current patchwork of state waivers, and to advance policy to enable every child to receive a complete education that includes the arts.”
The next step in the process is for the Senate and House to begin a formal conference process to develop a consensus bill which will need to be passed in both chambers. Senator Alexander indicated negotiations with the House will begin in a few weeks. This will be a challenging process as the House version of ESEA reauthorization (H.R. 5, Student Success Act) narrowly passed the House last week with no Democratic votes and many dissenting votes by Republicans . The consensus bill just passed in the Senate strengthens their negotiating position, but the task of crafting a bill in conference that can pass the House will be difficult. In addition, a bill will ultimately go to the President for signature and the Administration is insisting on a legislative product that addresses inequality (the core mission of ESEA) and strengthens accountability.
While there is certainly much to celebrate getting this far down the road in the process… there is still a long way to go through the conference process and hopefully to the President for signature. The New Jersey Arts Education Partnership will be working with our colleagues at the national level to provide you with the latest information in the process and how YOU can make a difference.
New Jersey Arts Education Partnership