The new chairman of the Senate education committee made clear last week that he aims to catch up on an array of overdue bills to reauthorize education laws, from Head Start to vocational education to the Higher Education Act, as well as focus new attention on issues such as reducing high school dropout rates.
Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and other Republican leaders in the chamber gathered Jan. 24 to announce their top 10 legislative priorities for 2005, with a catchall education bill ranking ninth in the lineup, at least by its bill number.
The same day, leading Senate Democrats outlined their own top issues, proposing to boost federal education aid, improve implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, and offer tuition incentives for college students who teach in high-need fields, including mathematics, science, and special education.
Sen. Enzi, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said the goal of S 9, the proposed Lifelong Education Opportunities Act of 2005, would be to address education and training needs from early childhood through adulthood, and to help ensure that all Americans are skilled for the workforce.
“We’ve tried to put together a package here that will take care of it, from the beginning to the end,” Mr. Enzi said at the press conference, “with flexibility and accountability that will build on what we did with No Child Left Behind and fill in those reauthorization pieces that we need to do at other levels.”
The legislation is meant to encapsulate a range of education issues that federal lawmakers are expected to tackle separately in the coming year. The drafting of the broader bill was not final as of late last week.
At a competing press conference, Democrats unveiled their own set of 10 priority bills, including the proposed Quality Education for All Act.
“In the 109th Congress, Senate Democrats are committed to restoring the promise of America by pursuing an agenda that honors the values behind it: security, opportunity, and responsibility,” said Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the chamber’s new minority leader.
But with President Bush back for another four years and larger Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, the GOP will clearly be in the political driver’s seat this year.
Forums on ‘No Child’ Law
The three-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush’s No. 1 priority for education in his first term, appears certain to be the focus of considerable attention this year. Asked about the law at the GOP event, Sen. Enzi said his panel would gather information about its implementation—a source of continuing friction between the Department of Education and the states.
He noted that Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees education and early childhood matters and a former secretary of education, would take the lead on seeking that information.
“Senator Alexander is talking about having hearings on No Child Left Behind, some forums maybe even around the United States, to make sure that we’re collecting the information and seeing what can be done administratively as well as legislatively,” Sen. Enzi said.
Sen. Enzi and other Republicans made no explicit mention of President Bush’s agenda for high schools, which Mr. Bush promoted on the campaign trail last year and outlined in more detail last month. The president wants to require more statewide testing of high schoolers and is proposing new supports for students at that level of education. (“Bush Promotes Plan for High School Tests,” Jan. 19, 2005.)
A Moral Commitment?
Mr. Enzi made only a vague reference to the issue at the GOP press conference by saying he wanted to reduce the number of dropouts.
On the Senate floor the same day, he said: “High school dropouts are the most at-risk school population in the workforce. We must look at federal efforts to reform high schools to make sure we are keeping students in school.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the education committee’s ranking Democrat, outlined his party’s priorities in a Jan. 24 floor speech.
“We must keep the promise to leave no child behind,” he said. “For Democrats, this is not just a slogan. For us, it’s a moral commitment.” He said Democrats would fight to “fully fund” the No Child Left Behind law.
He added: “Republicans are for tax breaks for the wealthy few. Democrats are for the common good—for stronger schools and better health care for everyone.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 02, 2005 edition of Education Week as Senate Republicans Put Education on Their Agenda