Lawyers Urge Improvements to ESEA

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 19, 2011 – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law released the statement below regarding today’s letter to the Senate HELP Committee to enhance the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization Bill:

Today,  the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a formal letter to US Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) calling for additional improvements and amended language to the proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  “We firmly believe education is a civil right – not a privilege afforded to few,” Public Policy Director Tanya Clay House stressed.  “Hence, equal access to quality education must be available to all students and we will continue to ensure this right through our public policy advocacy and in the courts.”

The Lawyers’ Committee expressed concern that the proposed reauthorization of ESEA ignores the importance of diverse and integrated learning environments, weakens accountability for the success of all students, permits the inequitable allocation of educational resources, and compromises the commitment to maintaining state and local educational funding for education.  The proposed plan does not require states and districts to set measurable, quantifiable goals for student progress.  It lacks consequences for states which fail to demonstrate continuous improvement.  In addition, the proposed bill allows the concentration of unqualified teachers in high-poverty, high-minority schools.

Therefore, the Lawyers’ Committee urges Chairman Harkin to support stronger amended language to strengthen accountability, prohibit the inequitable distribution of highly qualified teachers, require cross-tabulation of data by both race/ethnicity and gender, require states to supplement and not supplant current state funding, and promote safe learning environments by prohibiting discrimination.

The Committee also sent another letter opposing a planned amendment by Senator Isakson that would erode accountability for students with disabilities.  The Lawyers’ Committee is currently engaged in a federal class action against the Louisiana Department of Education, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and State Superintendent Paul Pastorek to enforce the rights of students with disabilities in New Orleans under federal and state law (Berry, et al. v. Pastorek, et al. (E.D.La. 2:10-cv-04049)).

The Lawyers’ Committee has continued to remain at the forefront in advancing equitable educational opportunities.  In collaboration with other national civil rights and education advocacy organizations, the Lawyers’ Committee sent comments to the Senator Harkin earlier this year regarding the accountability provisions of the working ESEA draft (See Accountability Letter below) Additionally, the Committee released a Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) on July 26, 2010.  This Framework affirms that access to high-quality education is a fundamental civil right, and provides priorities to guide the reauthorization of ESEA.