Yesterday afternoon, the Senate voted 81-17 in favor of the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), the Chamber’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). While 14 Republicans and three Democrats voted against ECAA’s passage for dramatically different reasons, the Chamber’s overall support for the bill remained strongly bipartisan and marks a significant step forward in rewriting the nation’s largest K-12 education law which has been due for renewal since 2007.
The effort in the Senate to reauthorize ESEA has been driven by HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) who shepherded the bipartisan bill out of Committee in April. A total of 66 different amendments, including Senator Alexander and Murray’s comprehensive substitute amendment, were passed as part of yesterday’s vote with 13 being rejected.
On the whole, ECAA completely reimagines ESEA’s accountability system, removing No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) “adequate yearly progress” requirement. It would maintain the law’s annual assessment schedule and would require states to develop “challenging academic standards” for all students. Notably, the bill would require states to report disaggregated data on student subgroups and identify low-performing schools, however it does not place a requirement for state or local intervention if achievement gaps are identified—something that has been a point of strong contention for many civil rights groups and the Obama Administration.
During the five calendar days that the Senate devoted to the bill’s consideration, there were a number of Career Technical Education (CTE) amendments that were adopted before ECAA’s final passage. While the final text of S. 1177 will not be available until sometime next week, here’s a short breakdown of a few of the new additions that found their way into the final bill (a listing of ECAA’s CTE provisions that were already in the bill can be viewed here):
- CTE is now included in ECAA’s definition of “Core Academic Subjects”—ensuring that CTE is recognized as a strong contributor to students’ college and career readiness
- Strengthened accountability language that would allow states to include measures of student postsecondary or career readiness in their accountability systems
- An expansion of the Pell grant program to help low-income students complete early college and dual / concurrent enrollment programs
- Strengthened state and local plan language requiring the development of effective strategies to promote student transitions between learner levels
- New state plan language referencing the need to create “college and career pathways” for students
- Additions to the local application section of ECAA encouraging the support of programs that promote integrated academic and CTE instruction, including experiential learning
- Greater support for educator professional development that encourages common planning time for CTE and non-CTE teachers while encouraging integrated instruction
- New allowable uses of funds under Title IV of the bill that support college and career guidance programs, including career awareness & exploration activities, while providing greater support for the use of labor market information to be used to inform these activities
Many other big ticket amendments were considered during the Senate debate. The “A-PLUS” amendment, a proposal that would allow states to block-grant their Title I funding for “any education purpose allowed under state law”, was voted down mainly along party lines. One of Chairman Alexander’s amendments supporting school vouchers for low-income students had a similar fate. Another “opt-out” amendment that would have allowed parents to opt their children out from the bill’s mandated assessments also did not pass. Towards the end of the debate, a significant proposal from Senate Democrats to hold states accountable for their lowest performing schools and achievement gaps within student subgroups did not pass either. A compromise proposal that changes the underlying formula for Title I did pass, however the amendment’s provisions would not kick-in unless Title I is funded at much higher levels than it is currently.
On the whole ECAA rolls back the federal government’s role in K-12 education substantially, leaving many important educational decisions to states and local communities while rectifying many of the most problematic legacies ‘left behind’ by NCLB. Despite the bipartisan nature of the Senate’s process, a pathway forward for full ESEA reauthorization remains highly uncertain. As mentioned above, many Congressional Democrats, civil rights groups, and the White House are strongly opposed to the absence of a stronger accountability system in ECAA. Conversely many Republicans, particularly those in the House, are vehemently opposed to any proposal that does not do more to streamline existing programs and limit the federal role in K-12 education further.
With the Senate and the House’s work on their respective bills complete, it remains to be seen if their proposals can be reconciled via a formal conference or by way of behind-the-scenes negotiations later this year. Nevertheless, crafting a bill that can please each of these groups will prove to be extremely challenging.
Be sure to check back here as the process unfolds later this year. NASDCTEc will be sure to provide more updates and analysis for how these proposals will impact the CTE community as negotiations continue.
Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager