Education Bill Close to Passage in Congress

December 1, 2015

From: Isaac Brown, Legislative Counsel
Vol. 15:14

After weeks of negotiations, House and Senate leaders announced Monday that they had reached an agreement on a framework for legislation that amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s preeminent law governing public schools. Should the legislation pass in both chambers of Congress as expected, it would be the first time since the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in 2001 that the law has been updated. The legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act, would provide states and local education agencies greater autonomy in setting curricula and standards.

The National Governors Association has endorsed the bill. NASAA is not taking a formal position on the full legislation (which contains many provisions not applicable to the arts), but we applaud the provisions it contains that support arts education in America’s schools.

A more substantive summary of the Every Student Succeeds Act will be forthcoming in the December issue of NASAA Notes, but we want to make you aware now of some of the significant provisions that impact the arts within the bill.

The legislation eliminates all “Core Academic Subjects” and in their place creates a definition for a “well-rounded education.” The legislation defines the term as “courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience” (emphases mine). All of these subjects are allowable, but states would enjoy flexibility to choose among them. It is also important to note that the subjects listed in the definition of a well-rounded education—including arts and music—are specified as eligible uses of Title I funds within the bill. Title I funds are the largest pool of federal resources dedicated to ensuring equitable access to a complete education for all students.

Additional arts provisions of note in the bill:

  • Funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is maintained, and arts and music education are explicitly identified as being eligible for funding.
  • Also significant is that the programs currently supported by the Department of Education’s Arts in Education fund would continue under the new legislation.
  • The legislation encourages states to integrate “other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM programs . . . .”

While timing for this legislation is uncertain, it appears likely that the House will vote on the legislation this week, with the Senate set to follow next week. NASAA will keep you updated as events unfold. We sincerely appreciate the efforts made to advance arts in education as this bill advanced. There is no question that the successes outlined above are a direct result of your hard work.