In July 2015, both the House and Senate passed bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). These bills updated the last version of ESEA known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. And since both House and Senate passed different versions of an ESEA bill, they were required to come together in a “conference committee” where they were to sort out their differences. That conference committee met, and a compromise bill had to go to both the House and the Senate for a vote. Last night, the House voted overwhelmingly to pass the compromise ESEA bill. The Senate is poised to vote on the bill next week, and President Obama is expected to sign it.
As we wrote last April, the Senate version of this bill included a number of advances that would support school health. We supported those changes and continued to engage with leaders to make sure these would be reflected in the new conference language.
This past Monday, the compromise bill was made public. Many of the provisions that will support student health have survived. As of today, we remain cautiously optimistic that both the House and Senate will pass the joint bill with these provision intact.
Specifically this bill would do the following:
- Add chronic absenteeism as a required indicator to school report cards for Title 1 schools (schools with high numbers or high percentages of low-income students). Chronic absenteeism can serve as a powerful measure for students who are academically at risk. In addition, student health issues are a leading cause of chronic absenteeism.
- Includes health services as a part of the Title 1 Schoolwide Program Plans, specifically mentioning counseling, mental health and specialized instructional support services. Given the significant health disparities that exist in our country and their connection to the academic achievement gap, allowing the use of Title 1 funds to support student health is a key strategy for supporting student achievement.
- Restructure Title IV, Safe and Healthy Students, to require that eligible school districts conduct a needs assessment to identify the health and safety needs of their students. This would allow the Department of Education to allocate grants on identified priority and needs of schools rather than encouraging schools to chase grants that may not fulfill their greatest needs.
- Recognize both health education and physical education as part of a well-rounded education, which will elevate the importance of health education and PE and could increase school and district access to funding for PE and health education.
For those that care about student health, this represents a major step forward in helping schools create the conditions to support student health and wellness. We applaud the members of the conference committee for recognizing the important role student health plays in supporting academic achievement.