The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, was passed in 1965 as the education component of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” It was designed to address the achievement gap between children from low-income families and their higher-income peers and was the most expansive federal education bill ever passed. The bill created a special source of funding, Title I, to deliver targeted categorical—as opposed to general-federal aid to programs specifically designed to help disadvantaged children. ESEA advanced the principle that students in need, regardless of whether they attend a public or private school, are entitled to an equitable share of services and benefits.

The ESEA preceded the official establishment of the Department of Education under President Carter in 1980 and has expanded dramatically through regular reauthorizations in the 50 years since its creation. President Bush initiated a bi-partisan effort in 2000 to update the ESEA, creating the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, or NCLB. The NCLB expired and was due for reauthorization in 2007 but Congress has been unable to agree on terms and has chosen to default to annual funding but not reauthorization.

Currently, the stalemate remains in place. In February, a House committee passed the HR5, the “Student Success Act,” which would amend NCLB. The bill would spend $23 billion annually, roughly what is currently spent under NCLB. Due to internal debates among Republicans over the interpretation of certain provisions of the bill and a veto threat from President Obama, the bill failed to reach the floor for debate. The Senate continues a bi-partisan effort to address differences and create a proposal that may improve the chances reauthorization may eventually be successful.

The USCCB supports the efforts of legislators to address the concerns of Catholic educators in the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB. In addition to adequate religious liberty protections, a top concern is insuring nonpublic school students receive the equitable share of program services and benefits to which they are entitled and Congress has traditionally intended. Over the years the principle has been eroded by some public school districts that choose to retain funds generated by private school students without meaningful consultation with those private schools. The USCCB believes HR5 addresses those concerns but passage of a final reauthorization is required to insure they are resolved.

The U.S. House passed on July 8, 2015, a reauthorization of ESEA. HR 5, the “Student Success Act,” contains provisions which support nonpublic school students getting their fair share of federal education dollars. The Student Success Act, HR 5. It passed the House yesterday 218-213. At press time the Senate is working on its own version of the bill.