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Educators’ Voices Heard on ESEA Reauthorization

More than 40 AFT leaders from 19 states, including Connecticut, on March 10 traveled to the nation’s capitol and urged their senators to preserve essential ingredients and advocate for necessary changes in ESEA, known in its current version as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). New Haven Federation of Teachers President David Cicarella and AFT Connecticut Professional Development Coordinator Carole Clifford (pictured above) met with Sen. Murphy’s staff to discuss the prospects of the law’s passage in the current session of Congress. 
The next day, the law’s reauthorization commanded major consideration at the regular meeting of the AFT Teachers Program and Policy Council. Later that evening ESEA was the focus of a telephone town hall meeting that drew more than 4,000 activists and classroom educators from states across the country.
Then local leaders and members on Friday sat down with Sen. Murphy at New Haven’s East Rock Community Magnet School for an informal and wide-ranging roundtable discussion on the law. They were joined by leaders in the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), as well as local elected officials, administrators and parent advocates from across the state.
In all of these actions, union leaders and activists highlighted the need for ESEA to stay true to its basic mission — leveling the playing field for all children in public schools, particularly those living in poverty — while providing educators with the conditions and resources necessary to meet that great challenge.
The visits connected the face and voice of classroom educators with AFT priorities for ESEA reauthorization. Among those goals: to relieve the pressure of high-stakes tests, ensure that struggling schools receive the interventions that will allow them to succeed, and embrace strategies that don’t turn the federal government into the human resources department for every school district. 
At the roundtable in New Haven, Windham Federation of Teachers member Kathleen Koljian spoke for many of her colleagues in urban and resource-starved public schools saying they felt “demonized and demoralized by the fixation on high-stakes standardized testing.”
Click here for a previous report on efforts to reverse NCLB’s current culture of “charters, so-called choice and batteries of tests.”
The important role of career and technical education (CTE) in public education policy was also part of the discussion with Sen. Murphy. State Vocational Federation of Teachers President Jan Hochadel pointed out that “the mission of schools is relevant to the law and must include CTE” to ensure students seeking its unique opportunities are not excluded. 
Click here for our report on Hochadel’s appearance last month in Washington, D.C. before a U.S. Senate panel on CTE.
AFT members also urged lawmakers to expand access to high-quality early education and to maintain ESEA’s original purpose of fiscal equity — keeping resources focused on schools with high concentrations of student poverty and maintaining support for key subgroups, such as English Language Learners (ELLs).
Click here for an earlier report on our union’s priorities in reauthorization of ESEA.
Issues impacting paraprofessionals and school-related personnel were well-represented in the grassroots lobbying activities. At the roundtable with Sen. Murphy, AFT Connecticut First Vice-President Steve McKeever explained the necessity of preserving ESEA language requiring that all paraeducators be highly qualified and attain certain levels of professional development and certification, such as college credits or equivalent exams.
Click here for an earlier report on efforts to maintain paraprofessional qualification requirements in the law.
Norwalk Federation of Teachers Executive Secretary John Altieri reflected on the importance of grassroots advocacy saying, “some in Congress are pushing harmful policies in a reauthorized law like ‘portability.’ Those who stand with us — like Senator Murphy — need to be able to stand up and say they’ve heard directly from classroom educators on how that would only widen the equity gap.”
These efforts, combined with follow-up both in Washington, D.C., and back here in Connecticut, will be critical in the weeks ahead. 
Leaders in the Senate are expected to propose a bipartisan draft of the bill early next month, while the House of Representatives could vote any day on a draft. Differences between the two bills would then need to be ironed out in joint committee before a bill is offered to the White House — making a critical window of opportunity for classroom educators to communicate with lawmakers not just at the Capitol but back home in early April, when Congress is in recess.

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