House Panel Re-Authorizes Portions of ESEA

On February 28, the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved (in a 23-16) vote GOP-backed legislation reauthorizing portions of ESEA.  Two bills, introduced by Rep. John Kline (R) of Minnesota, scale back the role of the federal government in education and give states more wiggle room in designing K-12 policy.

This is a dramatic departure from current the current version of NCLB, and the debate over the two bills ran down party lines.  Speaking as the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. George Miller argued that the legislation “turn[s] its back on the civil rights promises of this nation: that every child deserves a fair shot at success, no matter what their background.”  (You can learn what Rep. Miller means by this comment in a related discussion about NCLB waivers here.)

Also approved by the committee is an amendment (forwarded by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind.) that would reduce the number of staff employees at the US Department of Education.  On the other hand, an amendment proposed by Rep. Glenn Thomson (R-Pa.) to revamp the Title I funding formula in order to better benefit rural schools, was not approved.

Democrats introduced two amendments that would have changed the Republican bills entirely.  The first would have required states to set their own achievement targets and expand accountability for ELLs and special education students; the second would have required districts and states to create teacher evaluation systems and included funding for several programs (American History and the arts, among others).  Both amendments failed in a party-line vote.

The Senate education committee has already approved its own version of ESEA reauthorization.  However, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has said he will not bring up the Senate version for debate until the House passes a bipartisan ESEA bill.  This seems unlikely to happen in the near future.  Overall, the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Board Association have both officially endorsed the House bills.

On the “no” side is the “Tri-caucus group,” which consists of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.  The group claims the bills are “a big step back on accountability,” particularly for racial minorities and ELLs.  The Tri-caucus has been joined in disapproval by 38 other groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Council of La Raza, and the Council for Exceptional Children.  On the fence are a number of groups, including the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

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