An Open Letter on Every Student Succeeds Act
Dear GLSEN family:
Today, the U.S. Senate passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) by a vote of 85-12, which will usher in a new era in K-12 education and punctuate a shift in GLSEN’s strategic direction that has been underway for some months now. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is heading to the President’s desk. When President Obama signs the bill, it will mark a drastic shift of federal engagement in education reform, pushing significant power back to states and school districts.
Over the past six years, we have made incredible inroads under our strategic commitment to “make sure that LGBT issues are included in all national education reform efforts.” At a time when the federal Department of Education had significant authority to defend students’ civil rights and educational equity, we worked closely with them to achieve a remarkable range of victories. Working with national partners, we laid a foundation of policy and understanding to advance our central purpose – to get every K-12 school in the country to do right by every single student, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Now we must continue our shift toward an even greater focus on the state and local level. This is where the battles will be won moving forward. It is where we see the biggest threats to LGBT youth and the best opportunities to improve K-12 schools.
ESSA is a complex bill that limits the power of the Secretary of Education to direct state action. It also does not include language necessary to protect LGBT youth, though it does include some important civil rights reporting measures.
Some of our key allies in Congress worked long and hard to win this compromise. They prevented numerous measures that would have rolled back many of the gains we have made. We look forward to continuing our work with them to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, improve students’ lives, and protect civil rights under this new federal funding framework.
You can find our public statement on ESSA here:
For all of us at GLSEN, this new national framework is an urgent call to action. There are building blocks to work with to keep making progress. But we must redouble our efforts at the state and local level, where most of the goal setting for our schools and accountability for progress against them will now reside.
In the near term, three critical goals are crystal clear:
1) Get LGBT youth included in state-level measurements for school improvement and quality:
Under ESSA, states will be required to design the ways they will report to the federal government on their schools’ quality and effectiveness. There is a window of opportunity to influence how states measure their success, making sure that LGBT youth are part of the equation. Then we will have to keep working to make sure states are held accountable for continued progress.
2) Redouble our efforts to get LGBT youth counted in every government survey on youth health, school experience, and academic achievement:
ESSA requires states to report data on all categories of students currently protected by federal civil rights law. LGBT students are not (yet) protected. But if we continue to make LGBT youth visible in these studies by getting them included in all data collection, the LGBT achievement and experience gap will be visible in ways that will fuel future debates and spur new action.
3) Continue to show educators, policymakers, and the public what works for LGBT students and for schools:
As we continue to bring LGBT-supportive programs, policies, and resources to schools everywhere, we show the world what works to support students and improve school climate for all. GLSEN exists to help schools do their best by every student, and to overcome the barriers of fear, prejudice, and ignorance that keep schools from doing the right thing. Each time we achieve that in a new school, we can carry that experience and the evidence of success on to the next.
We will continue to work with all of you to identify opportunities under ESSA and invest in work that improves the lives of LGBT youth. Don’t hesitate to let me, Juan Martinez or Nathan Smith know if you have questions or would like further information. For now, thank you so much for all that you do to make GLSEN the force for change that we are.
Dr. Eliza Byard