NASAA Notes: December 2015

December 4, 2015

Education Reform Bill Set to Pass

On November 30, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly (359-64) to approve legislation updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Senate is expected to pass the bill next week. The legislation, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), would revise the nation’s most wide-ranging law overseeing public education in the United States since 2001, when the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

That law had garnered widespread opposition over the years, and ESSA seems to try to address a number of those grievances, including the sentiment that the role of the federal government, specifically the U.S. Department of Education, was too extensive in setting curricula and standards for local schools. The legislation passed by the House upends a lot of the authority granted to the federal government in the No Child Left Behind Act, and instead places states and local education agencies in charge. For example, while annual tests in reading and math would continue under the new framework, decisions about how to judge schools based upon those examinations would be up to the states.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), ranking Senate member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), House Education Committee Chair John Kline (R-MN) and ranking House member Bobby Scott (D-VA) deserve considerable credit for working together for months, often behind the scenes, to craft a compromise that could pass in both chambers with bipartisan support. While NASAA is not taking a formal position on the full legislation (which contains many provisions not applicable to the arts), we applaud the provisions within the bill that support arts education in America’s schools.

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 significant 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. These centers provide after-school and out-of-school programming, and inclusion of the arts has been a priority to the arts community for some time.
  • Also noteworthy is that the programs currently supported by the Department of Education’s Arts in Education fund would continue under the new legislation. Under ESSA, the fund is rebranded the Assistance for Arts Education fund, but the substance of the program remains intact. Inclusion of this provision is significant because similar programs were excluded from this bill. In addition, its presence sends an important message to the Obama administration (which has in the past defunded the program in its budget proposals to Congress) that the legislature is firmly in support of funding arts in education grants.
  • The legislation encourages states to integrate “other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM programs . . . .”

The expansion of opportunities for arts education curricula in this legislation is the direct result of the concerted effort made by advocates to educate members of Congress and their staffs about the tremendous benefits that result from an educational system that values the arts. While we are grateful to you all, it is important to note that your work is not done.

As I mentioned, ESSA changes the paradigm from current law, which gives tremendous authority over education policy to the federal government, and shifts this authority to your states. While this law opens the door to robust participation of the arts in your schools, it does not require such inclusion. As states look to implement the new law, it is vital that state arts agencies be in dialogue with your governors as well as your states’ education offices to make them aware not only that the new law allows for inclusion of the arts, but also that students will benefit from exposure to the arts.

Should the Senate approve and the president sign the bill next week as expected, NASAA is available to provide guidance to you as you think about how your agency can play a meaningful role in implementing this new education law. In the meantime, I want to again thank all of you for being so tireless in your efforts. This week’s results show that they really make a difference.

In this Issue

State to State

Legislative Update

More Notes from NASAA

From the CEO

Research on Demand




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