Just eleven years after the historic Supreme Court case, Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, and only a year after the passage of the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress passed The Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965 (ESEA), one of the single most comprehensive pieces of legislation to date. Within three months of being introduced in Congress, the original bill was passed with relatively little debate and no amendments. Since its original passage, the bill has been through numerous amendments and frequent reauthorizations, all to ensure equality and improve the quality of public education. Key amendments to the ESEA include the addition of aid to handicapped children and bilingual education programs. Recent reauthorizations of the Act include: the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981; Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994; and No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was a significant component of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, a domestic agenda designed to eliminate racial injustice and poverty by allowing for greater spending on education, health care, and transportation. It allocated billions of funds to address and destroy the educational barriers that children from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds faced. The ESEA funds initiatives to improve primary and secondary education initiatives.
The Original 1965 law contained six sections: Title I-VI. Title I was set up to provide financial assistance to schools and school districts in low income communities. Title II was dedicated to the improvement of school library resources, textbooks, and instructional materials. Title III provided grant support for supplementary educational centers and services. Title IV provided grants to support education research and training to help teachers be more proficient. Title V funded grants to strengthen departments of Education at the State level. Title VI included general provisions for education.
Since the initial authorization of these laws in 1965, African Americans have made tremendous social progress and the Congressional Black Caucus has come to be known as a powerful voice regarding education and its reforms. No greater example of this exists than in the contentious debates that took place regarding the NCLB. NCLB, a reauthorization of the ESEA, was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001. The Act emphasizes equal access to education and establishes high standards and accountability. This law authorizes federally-funded education programs that are administered by the states. Opinions regarding NCLB, even among CBC members, have varied. While some members sought to overturn the law, speaking out against the law and its provisions, still others devised ways to make it stronger and more effective. Since its passage, they continue to weigh in on the various debates surrounding education including funding, the achievement gap, and alternatives to traditional public schools.