Center for American Progress

Senate Shouldn’t Pass a Modest ESEA Reauthorization Bill
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Senate Shouldn’t Pass a Modest ESEA Reauthorization Bill

The stakes are too high for our students and our economic growth to tinker around the edges of education reform.

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Next week the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is scheduled to vote on a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. ESEA should have been updated back in 2007, so the Senate’s action on a comprehensive reauthorization is welcome—particularly in contrast to the House’s piecemeal approach. But in an antigovernment climate where many conservatives decry federal involvement in education (or any issue), the committee may be tempted to take the wrong approach and pass a modest bill.

The stakes are too high for our students and our economic growth to tinker around the edges of education reform. Only 35 percent of eighth graders read at grade level, most high schools graduate little more than two-thirds of students on time, and only one-fourth of high school graduates are prepared for college. Yet reducing the nation’s dropout rate by half in 2010 would add $5.6 billion in increased spending, $19 billion in increased home sales, 54,000 new jobs, $9.6 billion in economic growth, and $713 million in increased tax revenue. And raising achievement levels in the United States to those of other industrialized nations could increase our GDP by $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion.

Below are five big policy ideas the Senate should put in its bill to ensure the next ESEA is big and bold enough to improve the education system, and thus our nation’s economy:

  • Focus on results: Hold all schools accountable for all students
  • Build school talent: Improve the effectiveness of teachers and principals
  • Maximize the money: Make school funding more fair and productive
  • Fix what’s broken: Turn around low-performing schools
  • Prepare for tomorrow: Invest in innovation

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