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Community Schools Advocates Push for 'Whole Child' Focus in ESEA Update

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By Lauren Camera. Cross posted from Politics K-12.

The Coalition for Community Schools has joined the ranks of stakeholders offering members of Congress their laundry list of dos and don'ts for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law.

On Monday morning, the coalition sent a letter to Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate education committee, to emphasize the important role school-community partnerships should play in the overhaul of the federal education law.

The coalition is an alliance of more than 200 education, health, and civil rights organizations. Forty-four of those groups signed on to the letter, including the two national teachers' unions; the associations for superintendents and principals; a slew of community-based groups, like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the YMCA; and several organizations that focus on the physical and mental health of children.

Citing a new study showing that, for the first time in 50 years, the majority of students are low-income, the coalition's letter notes that students are far more likely now to face various social, mental, and physical health barriers than ever before.

"They need a range of supports to address and overcome the many barriers to academic achievement, whether it is a toothache, chronic asthma, trauma from experiences at home and in their communities, or mental health needs," the letter states.

The group also draws from recent data from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights to show how school climate and civil rights issues have suffered under the current law.

"Students of color and students with disabilities are being suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates from their peers, leading to a school-to-prison pipeline crisis and a shameful portrait of our state of inequity," they write in the letter.

A NCLB reauthorization that focuses on the "whole child" would stress the importance of school-community partnerships, and allow for before-school, after-school, and summer enrichment that would improve student achievement and help curb the school-to-prison pipeline trend, the group says.

Here's a quick hit list of the coalition's other dos and don'ts for NCLB:

  • Authorize the Full-Service Community Schools Act, a bipartisan bill from the 113thCongress that would create a competitive grant program to expand the number of full-service community schools.
  • Require schools using Title I money to identify and report results beyond academic achievement to include indicators for health and wellness, discipline, attendance, and family engagement.
  • Maintain a separate funding stream specifically targeted to before school, after-school, and summer learning.
  • Do not permit the transfer of 100 percent of funds between Title II programs (for teachers and principals) and Title IV programs (for safe and healthy students), as is currently written in Sen. Alexander's draft reauthorization.
  • Fund the entire law to pre-sequester levels.
  • Strengthen the legislative definition of "family engagement" and "community engagement" to clarify how they can contribute to student achievement and well-being.

The Senate education committee held its first hearing on testing and accountability last week. It's slated to meet again on Tuesday to discuss the role of teachers and principals. The chairman's goal is for his committee to clear a reauthorization measure by March.

Efforts are also underway in the House, where Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman, John Kline, R-Minn., said last week that the House is on track to vote on an overhaul by March.  

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