Today, Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-IA) introduced the Working to Encourage Community Action and Responsibility in Education (WE CARE) Act, which amends Title I of ESEA to require states and local educational agencies to assess the nonacademic factors affecting student academic performance and work with other public, private, nonprofit, and community-based entities to address those factors. The WE CARE Act will also require the annual report cards issued by states and local education agencies to include additional performance data, including information on their efforts to increase community and parent involvement in students’ education.

While the debate on education reform often focuses on policies related to teacher effectiveness, funding flexibility, charter schools, testing, common core standards, eliminating education programs (which is not really policy), school turnaround, it is critical (and refreshing!) to see that some policymakers can still recognize the value of having school-community partnerships meet the needs of children and youth. It wasn’t too long ago that a study by the Educational Testing Service outlined 16 factors that correlate with student achievement–over half of these factors occur outside of the school building. Such factors include forced mobility, environmental hazards, hunger and nutrition, neglect and health care, all of which puts students so far behind that being college and career ready by 12th grade becomes more difficult to achieve. So when we stop and think about all these non-academic obstacles that negatively impact student achievement, you would think that integrating services via comprehensive and more systemic approaches to education would be the way to go (but so many folks don’t seem to “get it”). That’s why bills like the WE CARE Act are so important – it leverages the community resources so that schools can tap them to address the non-academic needs of our students. What is also great about the WE CARE Act is that it offers additional momentum to a movement that promotes the engagement of community partners and families in the successful education of our children and youth. Whether students may need counseling or medical services, assistance with housing, nutrition, or even personal safety, all these “stressors” on students serve as non-academic barriers to learning…barriers that should never be overlooked when thinking about education reform and ways to help boost student achievement.

While the 112th Congress continues to be tough on programs that benefit children and youth, it is great to know that we still have members like Mr. Loebsack who advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. Because he introduced a bill that ensures schools and communities work together to provide the necessary wraparound supports to students so they can excel in the classroom, we honor his commitment to our students, we honor his dedication to engaging communities and families and we applaud the fact that Congressman Loebsack truly “gets it” when it comes to investing in our kids in a comprehensive fashion.