Although it’s only Wednesday, it has been quite a busy week already as lawmakers from both political parties begin to work in earnest on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Due for an update since 2007, the law more commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) oversees most federal K-12 education programs and provides supplemental funding for schools and districts throughout the country.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan kicked things off on Monday— the 50th anniversary of the law no less— with an address outlining the Obama Administration’s priorities for reauthorizing the nation’s primary K-12 education legislation. “I believe we can work together – Democrats and Republicans – to move beyond the tired, prescriptive No Child Left Behind law. I believe we can replace it with a law that recognizes that schools need more support – more money – than they receive today,” Duncan said. Further into his remarks, he revealed that the Obama Administration plans to request an additional $1 billion in Title I funding in its annual budget request expected to be released in early February.
After calling NCLB “out-of-date”, “tired”, and “prescriptive”, the Secretary went on to call for a strong federal role in annual testing and accountability— main elements of the current law and core principles undergirding the Administration’s ESEA state flexibility waivers to date. “Having accurate information about student performance, maintaining high standards, supporting teachers and school leaders, preventing students from dropping out and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline must be our top priorities” he said during his appearance.
Congress Sets Its Sights on ESEA
A newly empowered Republican Congress has already begun to draft proposals to renew ESEA. Late last night, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee released a discussion draft for the reauthorization of the law. The proposal would significantly reduce the federal role in K-12 education and increase state and local flexibility for using funds derived from the legislation.
“No Child Left Behind has become unworkable—and fixing this law, which expired over seven years ago, will be the first item on the agenda for the Senate education committee,” Alexander said. “I look forward to input from all sides on this proposal as we move forward with a bipartisan process that will keep the best portions of the law, while restoring responsibility to states and local communities and ensuring that all 50 million students in our nation’s 100,000 public schools can succeed.” The Chairman has asked for input from the public on this discussion draft by Monday, February 2nd which should be sent to: FixingNCLB@help.senate.gov
In addition to the draft’s release, the Chairman also announced the first ESEA hearing of the year which is set to take place on Wednesday, January 21st titled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability.”
Ranking Member of the HELP Committee, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) also laid out her principles for reauthorization in a floor speech this week in response to the draft proposal. Those remarks can be viewed here.
Over in the House, the Chairman of the Education and the Workforce (HEW) Committee, John Kline (R-MN), is also expected to release a draft proposal relatively soon. Next week he will be outlining his priorities for education reform at the American Enterprise Institute. Find more information on that here.
Where To From Here?
As we look to the rest of 2015, one thing remains clear— both Chambers of Congress, as well as the Administration, appear willing to reauthorize ESEA. The law’s renewal will be a central issue in the coming months and will likely be the primary topic for both Committees for many more to come. As that process unfolds, both parties will continue to stake out areas of priority while seeking common ground elsewhere.
Nevertheless, the key ingredient to the passage of a new ESEA will be President Obama’s signature. As lawmakers in Congress haggle over the finer details of a future ESEA bill, the issues of greatest importance to the Administration— access to quality performance data, rigorous standards, and adequate resources for schools and districts among many others— will continue to be recurring elements in the coming debate.
Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager