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Advocates Have Long Wish List for House Panel on ESEA Bills

By Alyson Klein — February 24, 2012 3 min read
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It’s official: On Tuesday, the House education committee will consider a pair of bills aimed at remaking key elements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

If this sounds a little anticlimatic, that’s because it is. Right now, few Capitol Hill observers seem to think the legislation will go to the floor of the House anytime soon. And even fewer folks expect that ESEA reauthorization will actually make it to prime time (get passed) this year. So most advocates see next week as a dress rehersal, not the final performance.

Interestingly, the same day the markup happens, nearly 30 states are expected to submit applications for wiggle room from pieces of the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the law. The action right now is in that interplay between states and the department—not in Congress. A Senate version of a reauthorization bill, passed last fall, also is expected to languish until well after the election.

Still, there are some things to watch next week. One big question is whether the House legislation can pick up official support from stakeholder groups.

For now, it’s hard to find groups who have given the bills an official seal of approval. A handful of organizations, including the American Association of School Adminstrators, Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National School Boards Association, have said that they are supportive of the process moving forward—they want to see a reauthorization sooner rather than later. But each of those groups has concerns with the Kline legislation.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the House panel’s chairman, is expected to release an amended version in advance of the markup. It’ll be interesting to see if any organizations, particularily advocates for school districts, decide to get behind the revised version.

Meanwhile, a long roster of groups are outright opposed to the bills, including 38 civil rights and business organizations, among them the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which sent this letter. The groups that signed the lettter are really worried about the fact that the legislation doesn’t include any goals for student achievement, or subgroup accountability.

Still, dress rehersals can set the stage asking for what could come later. So this has been a busy week for education advocates:

• Advocates for school districts and educators are seeking changes to a provision in the legislation that would get rid of maintenance of effort, which requires districts to keep up their own spending at a certain level in order to tap federal funds. (More here.) They’re also pressing to ensure the legislation doesn’t open the door for public funds to be used for private-school vouchers.

• Some advocates for educators are pressing for stronger language around professional development. Right now, professional development wouldn’t be a requirement—it would be up to the states.

• Others are hoping for more of a focus on science in the legislation. Right now, the legislation removes the requirement that states test students in science at certain grade levels. A stronger focus on science might be something some Republicans on the panel could get behind. More here.

• Advocates for companies that offer free tutoring for students in struggling schools are pushing to get some form of supplemental education services back in the legislation. The current version doesn’t require districts to set aside money for that purpose anymore.

• And advocates for rural districts are pushing for a reworking of the Title I formula to give more weight to high-poverty, low-population areas, first proposed in a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa..

Some of these changes could be part of a new version of the legislation that Kline is expected to put forth next week. Others could be introduced as amendments during committee consideration.