Senate and House take up bills to reform No Child Left Behind Act

Students at Santa Fe Indian School, a Bureau of Indian Education institution in New Mexico. Photo from Facebook

Lawmakers return to work today to consider bills to reform the No Child Left Behind Act, a troubled law that affects public and Indian schools across the nation.

Congress easily approved No Child Left Behind Act with bipartisan support in 2001. The measure, which was considered a major domestic policy win for then-president George W. Bush, was seen as a way to improve student achievement and strengthen accountability within the school system.

But over the years, members of both parties, educators, administrators and state governments have grown to revile the law, arguing that it has placed unfair mandates on students and schools. The Department of Education has granted waivers to 43 states, plus the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, a sign of nationwide dissatisfaction with the No Child Left Behind Act.

Lawmakers are now considering significant changes to the law through bills with equally catchy names -- S.1177, the Every Child Achieves Act, in the Senate and H.R.5, the Student Success Act, in the House. But this time around they hope their work survives long-term scrutiny.

“I look forward to that same level of discussion on the Senate floor -- ultimately leading to a result that will ensure that all 50 million students in our nation’s 100,000 public schools can succeed," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, said in a press release.

“There are two things that nearly everyone across the country agrees on: Every child in America should have access to a high quality education—and our existing federal education law, No Child Left Behind, needs to be fixed in order to make that promise a reality,” added Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), the top Democrat on the panel who described the new bill as one with bipartisan support.

Indian Country will be watching the debate om S.1177 this afternoon with the hopes of seeing benefits for the Bureau of Indian Education and public schools on and near reservations. They are awaiting amendments that would increase BIE funding, help improve Native student graduation rates and address Native languages.

"Please speak and sing out our best words in our languages to help the Senators make decisions that best support our education efforts in our languages," the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs said on Facebook today regarding an expected amendment for Native language immersion program. "The hearts and minds of our people are strong, and we are demonstrating the continuity of our lives as indigenous people in this world."

Lawmakers from the Navajo Nation are supporting the bill. They hope it will put more emphasis on tribal culture and language in classrooms.

“The Navajo language is very important. Our children do well in western education, but they tend to struggle with learning their own culture and language,” said Navajo Nation Council delegate Nathaniel Brown. “I once heard we need to put ‘Navajo Nation into young Navajo minds first.’”

“This reauthorization is moving us in a direction that would support provisions of what state education should be, and how the Navajo Nation can further define it to better fit our Navajo students’ needs,” added delegate Jonathan Hale. “Maintaining control over Navajo curriculum is key to furthering Navajo education at all levels.”

In addition to action in the Senate, the House plans to complete consideration of H.R.5 sometime this week, according to the Majority leader's schedule. Debate began in February but proceedings were postponed amid dissent among Republicans in the chamber.

President Barack Obama supports efforts to reform the No Child Left Behind Act. Officially, his administration is returning to the original name of the public school law -- the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Related Stories
BIA working with tribes for more No Child Left Behind Act waivers (06/12)
Gyasi Ross: Let's take a lesson from Miccosukee Tribe on schools (06/11)
Miccosukee Tribe secures first NCLB waiver in Indian Country (06/01)
BIE still waiting for answer on No Child Left Behind Act waiver (05/20)

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