While we work for ESEA reauthorization, protect low-income, minority children

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More importantly however, SES works.  That same Department of Education study found that children who participated in these programs saw significant increases in math and reading achievement. Many other studies, including one by the Rand Corporation and one by the Chicago Public Schools, have come to similar conclusions. It should come as no surprise that tutoring is effective. After all, wealthier families routinely seek out tutoring services for their children. Why shouldn’t low-income students in our nation’s most struggling schools benefit from the same opportunities?

This is precisely why I, along with twelve of my colleagues in Congress, sent a letter to Secretary Duncan, urging him to protect the free tutoring provisions in ESEA. I was joined on this letter by several Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. We sent the letter because we believe that free tutoring is a critical service for poor and minority students, and we do not want to see SES requirements waived away in the coming school year.

As Secretary Duncan has stated, “children only get one chance at an education.” I could not agree more. The low-income students benefiting from SES only get this one chance. The unfortunate fact is that the schools these children attend are not, simply because of a Department waiver, going to improve overnight. Even with our best efforts, turning around our nation’s underperforming schools takes years. What are the students stuck in these schools supposed to do in the meantime? We cannot afford to simply cast them aside. We cannot take away one of their few opportunities to catch up with their peers. We cannot upend their education because Congress has yet to reauthorize ESEA. It is irresponsible and unfair to use waivers to take away one of the few educational options available for low-income, minority students.

As our students and schools begin to prepare for the coming school year, I believe that whatever action the Secretary takes, the educational well-being of the countless low-income, minority students trapped in chronically underperforming schools should be a top priority. 

Parents and students already have to jump over countless hurdles, including inadequate notification, confusing enrollment processes, and a lack of transparency, to receive the services to which they are entitled. If schools are allowed to ignore the SES requirement, a greater number of students will be shut out of the programs their wealthier peers are able to access.

It is up to Congress to reauthorize ESEA. Waivers such as this flat-out ignore Congressional authority and do nothing to solve the problems in our educational system. The SES program should be improved and strengthened, and Congress and this administration should be working to expand access to these much needed services, not limit it.

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings serves as Senior Member of the House Rules Committee, Ranking Democratic Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Democratic Chairman of the Florida Delegation.