On July 16, 2015, Congress came one step closer to reauthorizing the existing Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) with the bipartisan (81 to 17) Senate passage of S 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA). In addition to the bill’s components regarding annual testing for reading and math and giving states more control over low-performing schools, ECAA includes new provisions to support safe relationships education, incorporate health as a core subject, and support pregnant and parenting students.
Under the ECAA, when applying for Title IV funding, schools would be required to describe how they are supporting safe relationship behavior for their students and may use Title IV funds to improve their safe relationship behavior education. The bill defines safe relationship behavior education as developing effective communication skills and recognizing and preventing coercion, violence, or abuse. Safe relationship behavior education would also include topics related to preventing teen and dating violence, stalking, domestic abuse, and sexual violence and harassment.
SIECUS statement of support from Monica Rodriguez, President and CEO
"As an organization committed to the sexual health of all people, particularly our nation’s youth, SIECUS applauds the inclusion of safe relationship behavior education in the Every Child Achieves Act. This type of education teaches students important relationship and communication skills that they will use throughout their lives. We thank Senator Tim Kaine and Senator Claire McCaskill for their leadership and are thrilled that the Senate has supported this critical health education advancement."
ECAA would also establish health as a core subject and would advance pregnant and parenting students’ access to education by requiring local education agencies to describe in their ESEA Title IX plans how they will provide support and opportunities for teens who are pregnant or parenting. State education agencies would also have to describe how they will support their local education agencies’ efforts.
Unfortunately, additional provisions that support student health, such as LGBTQ non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies and others that sexuality education partners championed, were not included in the final bill that passed.
Passage of ECAA followed the partisan passage of HR 5, the Student Success Act, in the House the prior week. The White House and Democrats condemned the House bill for seeking to dramatically diminish the federal role in education. HR 5 also includes language intended to impede sexual health education as well as prohibit school-based health centers from sharing age-appropriate and medically accurate information about the full range of reproductive health care options, including abortion.
The vastly different Senate and House bills proceed to conference negotiations to seek a balance between White House and Democratic priorities to protect vulnerable students versus the Majority Republican demands to reduce the role of the federal government in education.
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