A Look Back on Action To-Date on ESEA 2015



In case you missed it, here is a recap of the whirlwind of activities that have happened regarding ESEA in the past two weeks, and next steps forward regarding the legislation!

How We Got Here…

The U.S. House of Representatives

The “Student Success Act of 2015” (H.R. 5) was originally considered by the U.S. House of Representatives back in March.  Unlike the U.S. Senate’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Student Success Act does NOT contain the core academic subjects provision, and is tailored much more to the far right of the political spectrum.  Originally, House majority leadership was unable to rally enough votes and tabled the bill for further discussion.  On July 8, the House reopened discussion on the bill with votes on several amendments.

Of the nearly 50 amendments submitted, the House considered several interesting and controversial initiatives:

  • The “A-PLUS” amendment, submitted by Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC-06), would have allowed states to opt out of federal education policy provisions, while still allowing them to access federal funding. Its failure to pass, may have ultimately helped the bill gain moderate Republican for passage.
  • An amendment submitted by Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ-05), which would allow opt out of standardized testing, was also defeated.
  • A Democratic substitute amendment submitted by Ranking Member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), was defeated by a vote of 187 to 244. If agreed upon, the substitute would have returned core academic subjects back into the bill.

The House managed to pass the Student Success Act in the same night, with an incredibly close vote of 218 to 213.  Both the White House and Department of Education have already expressed their utmost dismay for H.R. 5, and the President has threatened to veto it.

The U.S. Senate

On July 7th, the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015” (S. 1177) was introduced on the Senate floor, after the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee agreed to the bill with unanimous consent and bipartisan support, by earlier in April.  If signed into law, this bill includes music and arts as core academic subjects.  Including music and arts as core academic subjects is an important step toward addressing the national problem of the narrowing of curriculum that has taken place under ESEA’s last iteration, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), for over a decade.  This recognition in federal legislation is included in the Senate’s bill in large part because of YOU—mobilized music advocates from across the nation, who helped to send more than 14,000 letters to your legislators in support of this bipartisan bill.  In addition, more than 200 total NAfME state delegates, including 70 plus Collegiates, from all across the country, visited with their members of Congress on NAfME Hill Day 2015, to make the case for music in the new ESEA-rewrite.

During the bill’s floor proceeding, over a 150 amendments were filed and considered, addressing issues from opt out testing, to increased civil rights accountability, to improvements to local libraries, and much more.  Of the seemingly endless numbers of amendments, a couple were considered, which were relevant to our cause for music education:

  • Led by Senators Kirk (R-IL), Baldwin (D-WI), Reed (D-RI), and Brown (D-OH), the “Opportunity Dashboard of Core Resources” amendment would have required states to report on three of five key indicators concerning student access to educational resources. These resources include access and availability of “core academic subjects,” which include music and arts. 
  • The “Strong Start for America’s Children” amendment, sponsored by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), was an amendment based on HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray’s (D-WA) bill (S. 1380), which would have expanded and improved early childhood education programs for children from low-income families, including through initiatives to expand opportunities for music and creative arts expression in pre-kindergarten programs.

Both amendments, unfortunately, fell shy of the necessary votes needed for passage.

After two weeks of debate, the Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 on Thursday, July 16, with overwhelming bipartisan support. The final vote tally was 81-17.

So, What’s Next?

The last iteration of ESEA expired in 2007 under the No Child Left Behind Act.  After more than seven years of outdated policy and piece meal fixes, Congress has finally taken strong initiative in resolving the struggles of our nation’s broken education policy.

Because the House and Senate have passed two different versions of ESEA, the two chambers will be forming a conference committee to hash out their differences and draft a compromise bill in which both chambers will find an acceptable compromise, before sending to the President for his signature.  It is uncertain as to when Congress will begin to appoint conferees for the committee and begin discussion of a joint bill, but we anticipate more information in the next couple of weeks. 

While it is important to celebrate this major step forward for music and arts in federal policy, it is not the end result that we seek just yet.  It is important to remain as engaged as ever to ensure that the Core Academic Subjects provision is not overlooked during the conference committee’s final deliberations.  We will be calling on all music advocates for a final push to help ensure that recent advancements become realized in law.  We look forward to working with Congress to get an outstanding bill across the finish line that acknowledges music and arts as national education priorities. 

Continue reading: Hopeful Atmosphere during Next Steps with Federal Education Bill


More information on the impact of the Core Academic Subject provision under No Child Left Behind is available in an article on Roll Call, written by NAfME Assistant Executive Director, Christopher Woodside.

For those interested in learning more about the general impacts of No Child Left Behind on music education, and what NAfME is seekin
g to accomplish in a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act, please check out our archived video footage of our recent congressional briefing, “Beyond the Bubbles with Music: The Benefits of a Broader MindedTM Education,” during our Hill Day 2015 event.


Ronny Lau, Special Assistant, Center for Advocacy and Constituency Engagement, July 17, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).