Thursday, July 16, 2015

Through the deft work of the Senate education committee, the leadership team of Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) succeeded in crafting and maintaining a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Today, the Senate voted to approve the Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177), by a vote of 81-17, a remarkable finish, especially considering the number of amendments that were filed (nearly 200 in all) and several other controversial provisions that could have sunk the bill.

The current law expired in 2007, and the Senate has not considered K-12 education legislation on the Senate floor since 2001, which gives a sense of momentous significance to this vote.

Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, stated, “Arts education leaders across the country are looking for federal leadership, certainty, and support to ensure access to the arts for all students, in school and out of school. Today, we all can take pride in seeing a huge step toward achieving this goal with the Senate’s action. There is hope for an end to the current patchwork of state waivers, and advance policy to enable every child to receive a complete education that includes the arts.”

Thanks, in part, to the work by dozens of national arts and arts education organizations and tens of thousands of advocates who have weighed in year after year as part of the national Arts Advocacy Day event on Capitol Hill, hosted by Americans for the Arts, the Senate bill contains 11 arts-friendly provisions, and retains the arts as a core academic subject —a priority for Americans for the Arts and the arts education field. Read more about those key provisions in this ARTSblog post.

Today’s vote clears the way for the House and Senate to begin a final bill that can be signed into law. The House passed its bill (H.R. 5) earlier this month, but without any Democratic support. The House bill does contain two pro-arts provisions but does not retain the arts as a core academic subject. Americans for the Arts will work with advocacy partners to build an unprecedented coalition to strengthen arts education in the final legislation.

Overall, both House and Senate bills seek to provide greater flexibility for states to guide their education reform efforts. Anticipating this shift from federal to state responsibility, Americans for the Arts launched the State Policy Pilot Program in 2014, a three-year national initiative that seeks to influence state-based implementation of federal mandates or programs related to arts education; expand state-based support of arts education in policy and funding; and help state education leaders utilize the arts as a strategy to help achieve their school reform goals. The initiative includes deep technical assistance and training for a cohort of teams from 10 states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. 

The arts-friendly provisions in the Senate bill, if included in the final law, would enable states and school districts to increase support for the arts as a core subject, facilitating support of after-school programs and extended learning,  as well as grant programs and initiatives designed to support a well-rounded, complete education for all.