153497087No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, the primary federal legislation dealing with our nation’s public schools), turned 13 this week. In those 13 years, NCLB has lost most of its former supporters and become a controversial law that most education policy experts agree must be reauthorized, a task that has been attempted repeatedly in recent years. And it’s beginning to look like this will be the year for reauthorization. In this effort it is important that policymakers work toward ensuring that every child has access to an excellent education.

A number of factors make 2015 seem like the year that NCLB will finally be reauthorized. The Senate education committee has new leadership, with Senator Alexander serving as chair and Senator Murray serving as ranking member. Senator Alexander has stated that reauthorization is the committee’s number one priority and he hopes to have a bill passed out of the Senate by the summer. Senator Murray has signaled her desire to work with Senator Alexander on it as well. Indeed, the first hearing, on testing, has reportedly been scheduled for January 20th. The House of Representatives passed a reauthorization bill last year and will likely do the same in the 114th Congress, and the chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Representative Kline, has said as much. And the Obama administration has articulated priorities for reauthorization this year. All of which increases the likelihood that NCLB will finally be reauthorized this year.

In the rush to reauthorize a nearly universally disliked bill policymakers should be careful to walk the fine line between riding the momentum to get something done while not rushing the process and losing sight of why it is so important to reauthorize NCLB: to help every child succeed and ensure that school prepares them for college, career, and life.

Children in America still have the highest poverty rate of any age group (19.9 percent), and the poverty rate for students is still higher than before the recession in 30 percent of counties across the country. Nationwide, nearly half of all students live below 200 percent of the poverty line and 1.3 millions students in pre-K through grade 12 are homeless. Yet most states are still funding education at lower rates than before the recession and federal education funding has not kept up with inflation and growth of the student population. Given these facts, NCLB reauthorization should help schools and students overcome these barriers to education. It should make sure homeless students have services they need to thrive, ensure stability for kids in foster care, provide additional services and afterschool time for students living in poverty, leverage community assets for the benefit of students, and ensure that every student has equal access to the resources necessary for an education that contributes to healthy growth and development and prepares children for college, careers, and beyond. This means equitable funding and access to highly trained teachers, support staff, and principals.

In the coming weeks and months First Focus will post blogs, fact sheets, and other resources to expand on the specifics of the ideas mentioned above. The time seems right for NCLB reauthorization, and it’s up to advocates, students, parents, teachers, and Congress to make sure that it helps every child succeed.