Throughout last week, lawmakers on Capitol Hill began to take up their respective proposals to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—the nation’s largest K-12 education law formerly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
On Wednesday, the House passed the Student Success Act (H.R. 5)—the Chamber’s rewrite of NCLB. After being removed from full consideration earlier this year when House conservatives began to oppose the bill for not rolling back the federal role in K-12 education enough, H.R. 5 was finally brought to a vote where it was passed along partisan lines by an extremely slim margin of 218-213. Of note to the CTE community, the final bill would repeal the “highly-qualified” teacher provision, require states and local recipients of federal funding to report on CTE-related student outcomes, and require further integration of academic and CTE coursework—all priorities for NASDCTEc in ESEA reauthorization.
However, the legislation would radically transform federal K-12 education policy and has been extremely controversial since its introduction in the 113th Congress. Several amendments, some old and some new, were considered and adopted during the debate in an effort to garner additional support needed to finally pass the bill:
- A provision shortening the law’s authorization period to FY 2016 – 2019 (previously H.R. 5 would have gone to FY 2021)
- Explicit language allowing States to withdraw from the Common Core without penalty from the U.S. Secretary of Education (since Common Core is not a federal requirement, this amendment is largely meaningless)
- Additional language clarifying the importance of student data privacy
- A new initiative to support digital learning programs in rural schools
- New opt-out language that allows parents to opt their children out of assessments mandated under H.R. 5 and allow schools to ignore these opted-out students when calculating overall rates of participation
Most notably, the “A-PLUS” Act—a Title I portability proposal that would have allowed states to fully block grant their Title I funding for “any educational purpose allowed under state law”—was voted down by a 195-235 margin. The White House has repeatedly issued veto threats for the Student Success Act and Congressional Democrats vehemently oppose much of what is contained in the proposal. Read the House’s Education and Workforce Committee’s press release on the bill’s passage here.
In the Senate, debate on the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177)—that Chamber’s bipartisan proposal for ESEA’s reauthorization—began on Tuesday and lasted through much of the week. The bill has been shepherded by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA). The process for the bill’s consideration has been much more consensus-driven than that of the House. ECAA contains a number of promising CTE-related provisions such as:
- A requirement that states and local begin reporting on student attainment of CTE proficiencies (something already done under Perkins, so as not to create new reporting burdens)
- A requirement that state academic standards be aligned with relevant state-identified CTE standards
- Provisions allowing for at least one metric in the state’s accountability system that is indicative of student postsecondary or workforce readiness
- The elimination of the harmful “highly-qualified teacher” provision
- Support of career counseling in Title IV of the bill
NASDCTEc is currently working with a number of Senate offices on CTE-related amendments related to using CTE instructional strategies as a model for high school reform, further inclusion of CTE within ECAA’s definition for core academic subjects, strengthened career counseling language, stronger support for dual and concurrent enrollment programs, and improved professional development programs for teachers and principals.
So far, the Senate has passed a handful of amendments related to school library programs, greater support for Native American students, and a new effectiveness study to be conducted of all ESEA funded programs. Notably, Chairman Alexander’s school voucher amendment—a proposal that would have allowed Title I funds to be used by low-income students at public or private schools of their choice—was ultimately rejected by the Senate.
Further debate of ECAA begins later today and through the week with a number of other CTE and non-CTE related proposals expected to be taken up. While the passage of ECAA is likely to occur this year, the pathway forward for a full ESEA reauthorization remains unclear. Reconciling ECAA and the Student Success Act will likely prove to be extremely difficult as both bills are dramatically far apart on many key issues related to the appropriate federal role in K-12 education as well as funding levels for many programs authorized under the law.
Stay tuned throughout the week for more ESEA related action and be sure to check back here for updates and analysis of this process.
Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager