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Reauthorizing ESEA

The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was a decade in the making. “Everyone knew what was wrong and not working, and that it required legislative change, but there was no political capital for the change,” says Michael Zola, NSBA’s associate executive director of federal advocacy and public policy.

Zola spoke at the opening general session Thursday of the School Law Seminar in Boston. The Council of School Attorneys (COSA) is holding the meeting in conjunction with NSBA’s Annual Conference. He shared the background story on the path to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

When President Obama came into office in 2008, along with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, hopes were high that the education act would be reauthorized. Instead, Obama and lawmakers started working on the Affordable Care Act. Then the majority of the House flipped to the Republicans, and everything ground to a halt. “This went on for several years,” said Zola.

Things started to change when the Republicans took over the Senate majority after the 2014 midterms. While this was a disturbing event for Democrats, Zola said, it actually helped with reauthorization, because the Republicans decided to focus on ESEA, and they were willing to work with their Democratic colleagues.

It was the Senate version of the bill that became the basis of the law that eventually signed by President Obama in December 2015, in what the president called at the signing ceremony, a “Christmas miracle.”

The work now for state education officials and school leaders will be in the guidance issued by the U.S. Education Department. “It’s where we remind the Executive Branch that they can’t create recommendation that doesn’t have law to back it up,” said Zola.

NSBA and the state school boards associations will be on hand to help districts as guidance and regulations come out to put meat on the bones of the law.

“At the end of the day, there’s lots of work to be done,” said Zola. “The authorization is only for four years, and we are going to have a new president.”

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