Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)


This year, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), has garnered strong bi-partisan support in the form of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The common sense charter provisions contained within the ESSA demonstrate that members of Congress are committed to ensuring all American children—including the 1.6 million children attending charter schools—have the opportunity to attend a great school.

The bill maintains annual testing requirements and strengthens the Public Charter School Program with significant provisions that raise standards and strengthen accountability for quality charter school authorizing.

Importantly, ESSA also maintains annual testing requirements, without the inclusion of mandatory optout provisions, to ensure we have meaningful information about the quality of our public schools.

What is ESEA?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, creating new grants to districts serving low-income students (Title I), federal grants for text and library books, special education centers, scholarships for low-income college students, and federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education. ESEA remains the vehicle by which Congress sets policy and directs resources for K-12 public education in the United States, and over time, the re-authorization process has become the primary public space for advocates and public officials to debate federal education reform and funding issues.

In 2001, President George W. Bush and Congress passed a re-authorization package named No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB expired in 2007. Since then Congress has continued to direct funding to states based on a combination of the policy and funding mechanisms of NCLB and a waiver process conducted by the US Department of Education. Efforts are underway now to re-authorize ESEA.

ESEA impacts charter schools and charter school authorizing in the following ways:


For twenty years the Public Charter School Program, a component of ESEA, has provided crucial funding for the growth of high-quality charter schools across the country. This includes policy and funding provisions that strengthen authorizing by making sure authorizers have the tools and support they need to make smart decisions. NACSA supports a Public Charter School Program that fosters a high-quality charter school sector in communities across the country. Support for quality authorizing must be part of it.


Annual tests provide critical data that parents, educators and officials use to make smart choices. Student achievement data from annual statewide assessments and other sources forms the core of the modern performance management policies and practices that strong authorizers employ. NACSA supports the continuation of statewide annual tests in reading and math.

Accountability and Oversight

NACSA supports strong oversight and accountability for all charter schools. As public schools, charters are subject to the same federal requirements as traditional public schools. Because the attributes of charter schools differ from traditional public schools–in that they have a charter contract, an autonomous board, and an authorizer–means that the fulfillment of these requirements also looks different. NACSA works closely with ESEA to make sure that charter schools and authorizers fulfill the spirit and letter of federal accountability and oversight policies while maintaining the qualities of autonomy and accountability that make charter schools unique.