News Room

Education Law Center Statement on the Every Student Succeeds Act


December 4, 2015

Contact: Ian Gavigan, Education Law Center-PA, 267-825-7713, [email protected]

Education Law Center Statement on the Every Student Succeeds Act

“Since its passage in 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been a critically important federal law for ensuring educational equity and protecting the civil rights of the most at-risk students. In several ways the proposed reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), represents an improvement over existing legislation and reaffirms the ESEA’s crucial mission ‘to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.’ However, the current bill could do much more to protect the rights of the country’s most vulnerable students,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center.

“We are particularly concerned about the lack of federal accountability. Under the reauthorization, much of the power and responsibility to ensure educational opportunities for vulnerable students has been shifted to the states. Both current research and our experience in Pennsylvania show that when states are given unfettered control over education, the civil rights of the most educationally vulnerable students often go unprotected and their academic outcomes suffer. We are concerned that without federal oversight, states will avoid the difficult challenges of ensuring that all students have fair and equitable access to a quality education.

Given this concern, we also fear that states will be allowed to turn a blind eye to overly punitive and discriminatory discipline practices that exclude students of color and students with disabilities at disproportionately high rates. The proposed bill does little to address the discipline disparities that plague schools in Pennsylvania and across the country. While states are given the option to include school climate as a factor in their accountability plan, there is no requirement or incentive to do so. The ESEA should serve as a robust protection for the civil rights of all students. By failing to require measurable steps to eliminate disparities in school discipline, the ESSA falls short of this promise.

In addition, despite the findings of a 2013 report of the Equity and Excellence Commission that Congress itself chartered, the bill fails to incentivize states to fund schools more equitably or to meaningfully expand federal programs that ensure opportunities for children whose schools are persistently and grossly under-resourced.

Despite these concerns, the bill does include several notable improvements that ELC strongly supports. The new ESEA will do more to hold schools responsible for the achievement of English language learners, including those with disabilities. It also provides significant protections to children in foster care and children who are homeless with the aim of improving educational outcomes. The bill strengthens school stability for children who are entering foster care or changing foster care placements; it improves the education of students experiencing homelessness by increasing the identification, enrollment, school stability and success of these children; and it shines a light on the school success of children in foster care and those experiencing homelessness by requiring the collection of data on high school graduation rates for these student cohorts. Additionally, we know that many students who are in foster care or experiencing homelessness also experience trauma, and the bill takes positive steps to help schools recognize and address trauma in the classroom.

While we remain concerned that ESSA does not hold states accountable for protecting the civil rights of all students, we recognize that the political climate has produced compromises and that the proposed bill is a marked improvement over the existing system. As such, we offer our support and urge decision makers to include the voices of parents, students, advocates, and educators in the work ahead to ensure that the fundamental goals of the ESEA will be upheld at the federal, state, and local level.”


The Education Law Center (“ELC”) is a non-profit, legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. For the past forty years, ELC has advocated on behalf of the most at risk student populations – children of color, children in poverty, children with disabilities, English language learners, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, and children experiencing homelessness.