Arts Education in the Senate ESEA Bill

After several attempts over the past few years, Congress is making progress in updating the No Child Left Behind Act, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Arts Education Funders Coalition has been advancing its systemic policy agenda for ESEA as part of the Senate and House process to move ESEA legislation. Just this past week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (Senate HELP) Committee approved their version of an ESEA rewrite on a unanimous 22 to 0 vote. The AEFC arts education agenda was well represented as part of this legislation.

Aspects related to our agenda that were included in the bill are:

  • The bill maintains a definition of core academic subjects that includes the arts. While not leveraged effectively in current law, “core academic subjects” appear in several key locations in the bill (see below).
  • The bill makes clear that Title I funds can be used for arts education. Specifically, Title I says that funds can be used for “programs, activities and courses in the core academic subjects”. As mentioned above, the term “core academic subjects” includes the arts.
  • The definition of core academic subjects appears in several other programs, thereby allowing these programs to have an arts education focus. For example, there is a new literacy program that allows for the integration of core academic subjects into literacy programing and as an approach in the definition of extended learning time for schools looking to extend the schools day.
  • The bill authorizes the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program which includes the ability to provide children in afterschool and expanded learning time programs with programs and activities in the arts.
  • The bill includes a new Safe and Healthy Students initiative that allows for grants to school districts to be used for well-rounded educational experience for students which may include the use of music and the arts.
  • The bill authorizes a literacy and arts education program, essentially slimmed down versions of the existing School Library and Arts Education programs.
  • The bill includes a number of references to “well-rounded educational experiences and programs” that seem to imply something other than the traditional subjects of math, science and English language arts as a focus. While this term is not defined in the bill, it may allow advocates at the local level (in addition to the references to core academic subjects) to leverage programs or funding for the arts.

Next steps: Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is seeking to have this legislation considered on the Senate floor prior to Memorial Day. The U.S. House of Representatives was in the process of considering their version of ESEA a few weeks ago, but ultimately delayed a vote on final passage because they were a few votes short the number necessary for final passage. While this legislation has yet to be rescheduled for floor action, efforts to get it approved by the full House continue. We will keep you updated on the status of this legislation and its (hopefully quick) advancement through the legislative process.