Congress: ESEA Reauthorization Bills Support Expanding Learning Time

David Goldberg is NCTL's Director of Federal Policy & National Partnerships. 

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – currently known as No Child Left Behind – has been overdue for reauthorization since 2007. This year, Congress has been making progress on the reauthorization of ESEA, and support for high-poverty schools to expand learning time has been included in each chamber’s bills.

In June, the United States Senate passed its ESEA bill out of committee, and we are pleased to report that the bill includes measures that support high-poverty schools to expand learning time (ELT). First, it allows communities to use the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program for high-quality ELT in addition to before-school, after-school, and summer-learning programs. Second, ELT was written into the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. Under current USED regulations, SIG’s Transformation and Turnaround models include “increased learning time” as a key turnaround strategy, and the Senate’s bill would codify these regulations into law. The bill also calls for schools to assess their current time use to determine their needs and how to implement their improvement strategies. The Senate bill must now move to the full Senate for a vote before it can be conferenced with the House’s ESEA reauthorization bill.

The House of Representatives, building on earlier work on ESEA in 2011, consolidated five smaller bills into one large comprehensive bill that passed on the House floor by a vote of 221 to 207 in July. The House bill block grants education funds based on the idea that it increases flexibility for states and districts. ELT was included as an allowable use of funds in this bill.

While both the Senate and House bills passed with the backing of their chambers’ majority party – the Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate – the minority party in each chamber offered alternative bills that also included ELT, demonstrating the solid bipartisan consensus in favor of making federal law flexible enough to support expanded learning time schools.

There was also one education appropriations bill that made some progress in Congress last month. The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which funds the Department of Education, passed the full Senate Appropriations Committee. If enacted into law, the bill would also change ESEA’s 21st Century fund to make it flexible enough to support both ELT schools and before-school, after-school, and summer-learning programs in all states.