K-12 Education

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Today, U.S. students have fallen far below the average developed country in international assessments. Rep. Eshoo consistently supports legislation to help close the achievement gap and improve the quality of every level of education so that all children are able to obtain the skills they need to succeed. A strong commitment to educating America’s students is critical to our nation’s future prosperity.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization

First passed in 1965 as a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the primary federal law for funding K-12 education across the country. It emphasizes equal access to education for all Americans, regardless of race, creed, wealth, or any other factor. The bill aims to shorten achievement gaps by funding professional development for teachers, including instruction materials, resources, and promotion of parental involvement. Importantly, the law forbids the establishment of a national curriculum.

Unfortunately, Congress has allowed the ESEA to expire. On July 19, 2013, House Republican leadership brought a highly partisan ESEA reauthorization package, H.R. 5, the so-called Student Success Act, to the floor of the House. This legislation permanently slashed federal funding for education, abolished more than seventy programs meant to assist historically at-risk students, and allowed disabled students to be taught at separate, lower standards. Rep. Eshoo voted against this legislation. Despite her opposition, the House passed the bill on a largely party-line vote of 221 to 207.

Supporting America’s Teachers

The average public school building in the United States is 40 years old. Thousands of schools across the nation are in dire need of renovations, and at the same time many American construction workers are struggling to find employment. A $50 billion investment in school construction would update these critical buildings and employ 500,000 construction workers using existing federal distribution formulas.

Public K-12 education has historically received the vast majority of its funding from state and local taxes. The recession caused a decline in tax revenues, and many public schools in California (as well as elsewhere across the nation) have been forced to cut back drastically. The impact of these cuts can be dramatic, including mid-year class disruptions and larger class sizes.

These effects have been exacerbated by sequestration, a 5.1% “across the board” federal spending cut that has drastically reduced federal support for California’s education system. Because of sequestration, California has experienced a cut of over $90 million in Title I programs which assist the state’s most vulnerable students. Rep. Eshoo believes sequestration is a meat-ax approach to budgeting, and should be replaced with sensible, balanced policy that includes targeted spending cuts.

Representative Eshoo also believes strongly that the educator tax deduction which allows eligible elementary and secondary (K-12) school teachers to deduct certain out-of-pocket expenses, should be made permanent.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

When Congress passed IDEA in 1975, the federal government required states to provide a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities and committed to pay 40 percent of the cost of educating students with disabilities, with the remainder of costs to be paid by states and localities.

Unfortunately, the federal government has not come close to fulfilling its obligation and currently only provides half the promised amount. This shortfall places an onerous financial burden on local school districts and communities, and it has pitted parents of special needs students against those of other students. Rep. Eshoo has consistently voted for and supported legislation to remedy this gap.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

Early in President George W. Bush’s first term, a significant legislative overhaul of the nation’s education system known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed into law. NCLB passed on a bipartisan basis with the goal of creating unprecedented accountability for schools across the nation. For the first time, verifiable metrics including rating and testing were brought to bear to ensure that schools were performing in the best interests of their students. Rep. Eshoo believed this change held great promise, as did many of the law’s early proponents, including its principle author, Senator Ted Kennedy. The legislation required a commitment by the Administration to fund the necessary changes in the nation’s schools. However, the Bush Administration never provided states with the funding needed to comply with the law’s mandates. The unfunded requirements have been untenable for many states and school systems, and the law has failed to meet Rep. Eshoo’s expectations.

Under NCLB, nearly one-third of schools nationwide have been designated failing, which is often more demoralizing to teachers and administrators than it is helpful to students. Rep. Eshoo believes we must end the practice of simply labeling schools as failures without providing them with the support they need to change course. Instead, the focus of educational reform should be on developing more effective teacher evaluation systems at the district and state levels with the goal of preparing all graduating students for college or a career by 2020—as President Obama pledged in his inaugural address.

President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have introduced the Race to the Top program to help meet the President’s pledge. The $4.35 billion incentive program is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and provides competitive grants to encourage states to create conditions for education innovation and reform. Rep. Eshoo supports this move in principle, providing the money is used effectively.

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