AASA Executive Director: When it comes to kids, legislating by crisis is not leadership.

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AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech penned this piece after recent ESEA momentum once again fell apart, leaving our nation's schools and the students they serve clamoring for an updated, current law. It is a strong complement to today's press event, where 10 national organizations (including AASA) came together to urge continued action on ESEA and for Congress to 'Put Kids First'.

Congress, as the legislative body for our representative democracy, is designed not to pass countless laws but rather, stop bad laws from passing. The current trend in legislating at the federal level has confused leadership with ‘legislating through crisis’ where final action is rife with politics, posturing and movement only when faced with stiff, absolute consequences or deadlines.


No Child Left Behind, the current authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) lacks an expiration or ‘must act by’ date, and is now nearly 8 years past due. Our nation’s K-7 graders have spent the entirety of their K-12 education experience under a broken, outdated federal law. Yet, no crisis. 


We write to express our deep disappointment and frustration with Congress’ seemingly willingness to displace and ignore our nation’s schools and the students they serve. This year alone, we have found serious ESEA reauthorization proposals bumped from floor consideration over cyber security, the trade deal and appropriations, among others. 


Our nation’s schools continue to open their doors and serve their students regardless of Congressional (in)activity. We are left to wonder what type of crisis it will take for ESEA and schools to warrant the type of consideration that it takes to complete reauthorization. 


We have heard and agree with the idea that education is the civil rights issue of this generation.  Education is an unparalleled lever out of poverty and continued inaction on ESEA means yet another missed opportunity to invest in and support the needs of the schools and the students that need it the most.


Perhaps more frustrating is the reality that we (advocates, educators, policy makers and parents) agree on far more than we disagree on. Yet it is that small portion that keeps ESEA from reaching the finish line. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and we must all remember that complete reauthorization—when done right—will involve compromise which, by definition, means everyone will be a little unhappy. Education policy and support for our schools and students has no room for ‘zero sum’, ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ policies. 


As AASA wrote in a joint statement with its 49 state affiliates, “…ESEA reauthorization…represents an opportunity to breathe new life into federal education policy, incorporating the latest research and actual experience to improve student outcomes and eliminate achievement gaps. Those efforts are under way….{and we} urge Congress to move forward with the very critical work of reauthorizing ESEA and providing all of the nation’s schools with workable federal education policy that supports state and local innovations. Our students want and deserve more.”


All 50 states and every congressional district have schools and students, meaning education and ESEA should be a broad, bipartisan priority, not a political football. Congress must turn away from its recent trend of making education and our students a 2nd tier priority, and use this opportunity to move forward in a deliberate manner to commit to supporting the success of every student, school and community.  Again, our students want and deserve more.


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