Bipartisan Education Reform Bill Passes Congress, on its Way to President's Desk

Date: Dec. 9, 2015
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: K-12 Education

The long-overdue, bipartisan education reform bill, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), received final passage today in Congress and is now headed to President Obama's desk for signature.

"Fortunately, we were able to fight off attempts to eliminate support for struggling schools and students. Students deserve a high-quality education no matter their neighborhood or zip code, and everyone must remain focused on eliminating the achievement gap," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL14).

ESSA significantly reforms the controversial No Child Left Behind law, preserves Title I funds for students and schools, increases teacher support, broadens accountability and targets struggling schools, and incentivizes increased transparency of publicly-funded charter schools.

U.S. Rep. Castor has been working to ensure that Title I funds remain intact and are properly supplementing - - not supplanting - - education resources, especially for at-risk schools in South St. Petersburg that were highlighted in the Tampa Bay Times investigation as well as schools across Hillsborough County. Under ESSA, Title I funds will continue to augment state and local education dollars, and will not include "portability" provisions that would have permitted funds to follow students if they transfer between public and charter schools.

U.S. Rep. Castor also raised the crisis situation among South St. Petersburg schools to U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who then visited Pinellas County in October to speak directly to parents and education advocates.

"Quality teaching matters to student learning, and this bill's emphasis on bolstering resources to invest in quality educators as well as early childhood education can also offer hope for improvement in schools across the Tampa Bay Area," U.S. Rep. Castor added.

ESSA provides resources to states and school districts to implement various activities to support educators through services for new teachers, professional development for current teachers and opportunities to recruit more educators to the profession. Historic support for early childhood education is critical for states to recognize as an important component in closing achievement gaps between low-income students and their peers.

In addition, ESSA replaces the high-stakes testing and punitive policies of No Child Left Behind with a comprehensive state-designed system that better identifies and supports struggling schools. ESSA incentivizes increased transparency, community engagement and accountability for all education resources, especially publicly funded charter schools, which has been another longstanding concern of U.S. Rep. Castor.

"Tampa Bay schools are facing substantial challenges. Too many of our St. Pete schools are low-performing and require immediate, targeted attention. In addition, a Harvard study earlier this year ranked Hillsborough County third worst place for poor children to be able to climb the ladder of success and escape poverty. Our public schools are central to lifting students and preparing them for future success in life," U.S. Rep. Castor said. "Primary responsibility for student achievement remains with students, parents, local schools, districts and states, but I am pleased to report that federal policies will be more encouraging."

U.S. Rep. Castor rejected any previous education reform plan that weakened public schools. Rather, she has worked with neighbors, parents and education advocates to ensure today's final legislation included meaningful reforms and upheld America's 50-year commitment to equity and quality in public education.