Blumenthal Signs Bipartisan Letter Urging Conferees to Support Gifted and Talented Students as Work On Education Bill Continues

(Washington, DC) – U.S Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) signed a bipartisan letter led by U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), urging conferees on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization to maintain the gifted and talented education provisions included in the Senate-passed ESEA reauthorization bill (S. 1177) as part of any final ESEA-conferenced report. These provisions include an amendment offered by Senator Mikulski and later adopted by unanimous consent during the HELP Committee markup reauthorizing the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Education Act, a program that supports gifted and talented students, especially disadvantaged gifted students who often go unnoticed in school and are not being challenged. The letter was also signed by U.S. Senator Robert Casey (D-Pa.) and U.S. Representative David Young (R-Iowa).

“Our nation’s gifted and talented children must be held to high standards, challenged, and engaged. Unfortunately, these students do not always get the access they need, or deserve, to amazing gifted programs and services across the country,” the Members wrote. “…There is a lingering perception that gifted kids are wealthy and do not come from diverse neighborhoods. We know this to not be true and that gifted students can and do live in a wide range of school districts. That is why it is imperative that our federal education policy reflect the understanding that they have unique needs.”

The Senate version of ESEA contains key provisions from the TALENT Act and also reauthorizes the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act--  the only federal program that provides dedicated funding to states, districts and institutions of higher education to develop curricula and implement teaching strategies to meet the unique needs of gifted and talented students. The University of Connecticut has benefitted greatly from the Javits program, as the program currently funds the National Center for Research on Gifted Education and Project SPARK at UConn. These programs are researching strategies to include greater numbers of underserved students in gifted programs and assuring that they excel in those programs.

The full text of the letter follows:

November 2, 2015

Dear Chairmen Kline, Alexander and Ranking Members Scott and Murray:

As you begin conference negotiations to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), we urge you to maintain the bipartisan gifted and talented education provisions that were included in the Senate-passed Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177).

The original intent of ESEA was to help schools better serve the “special educational needs of educationally deprived children.” This means that we need to support every child in achieving their maximum potential. This must include gifted and talented children, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds and lack access to services to help them achieve their potential.  

Our nation’s gifted and talented children must be held to high standards, challenged, and engaged. Unfortunately, these students do not always get the access they need, or deserve, to amazing gifted programs and services across the country. A recent survey done by the National Association of Gifted Children found that our country has fallen behind in gifted education and identified a number of challenges that must be addressed: lack of teacher training, limited state funding, and a lack of data and accountability. One reason that gifted education has fallen behind is that federal law creates incentives to ignore the educational needs of gifted children. 

There is a lingering perception that gifted kids are wealthy and do not come from diverse neighborhoods. We know this to not be true and that gifted students can and do live in a wide range of school districts. That is why it is imperative that our federal education policy reflect the understanding that they have unique needs.  

We are glad that S. 1177 included provisions from a bipartisan bill we introduced earlier this year – the TALENT Act, S. 363 in the Senate and H.R. 2690 in the House. These provisions, found in both Title I and II, provide for the inclusion of high-ability students in state plans and state accountability systems. States and school districts need to be accountable for how well they identify and serve gifted minority and low-income students. The bill also makes it easier for States to use their funds to improve teachers’ ability to identify gifted and talented students specific learning needs, and tailor instruction accordingly.

Additionally, during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee mark-up of S. 1177, the Committee unanimously passed an amendment offered by Senator Barbara Mikulski to reauthorize the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Education program. The Javits program is the only federal program dedicated specifically to gifted and talented students. Although relatively small, it positively impacts the education of gifted and talented students in every state through the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented through competitive research and capacity-building grants. These grants lead to the development of effective strategies that support both students and teachers.

If the United States is to remain competitive globally and on the cutting edge of innovation, we must challenge our best and brightest in order to help them reach their full potential.  

We respectfully urge the conferees to ensure that the gifted and talented education provisions included in S. 1177 remain in the final conferenced ESEA reauthorization bill. Thank you.

Sincerely,