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Arne Duncan’s on His Way Out: Does That Help or Hurt ESEA’s Chances?

By Alyson Klein — October 05, 2015 2 min read
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Education advocates, school district officials, teachers, and the rest of the edu-universe have been waiting for a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to make it over the finish line since 2007.

And it looked like a bill was close—both the House and Senate passed legislation to revise the law, and a conference committee had begun its work. (The Senate bill is bipartisan, the House bill is Republican only.)

Then, we had two blockbuster resignation announcements in two weeks. First, Rep. John A. Boehner, the Speaker of the House, said he was stepping down in October. And now U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has also announced he’s leaving office, in December.

That’s on top of the impending retirement of Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, announced over the summer.

So parlor game time. Is this good for ESEA prospects? Bad for ESEA? We asked some experts.

Bad for ESEA: “The reality is for it [ESEA] to go through, everything has to go right. For it not to go through, only one thing has to go wrong,” said Andy Rotherham, a partner at Bellwether Education who has been tracking the views of “Insiders” on ESEA and other issues for a monthly survey for years. (It’s a good read, check out the latest version.) “This confuses an already confused environment.”

Good for ESEA: “This helps,” said a Senate GOP aide, who predicted the rewrite would be finished by the end of the year. “It makes the whole thing less toxic. ... There’s always been this fear that no matter what we did Arne would just ignore it and subvert the law, and now he’s not going to be there.”

And Mary Kusler, the director of government relations for the National Education Association, thinks Duncan’s decision could provide a shot of urgency.

“Certainly no one was expecting Secretary Duncan to leave at this time,” she said, “But the reality is that this is now the third departure of a significant player. It adds emphasis to the need to get this done now.”

Some advocates are optimistic that Congress could act quickly and finish the bill before Boehner leaves town, as part of a big push to clear out the legislative underbrush. But November, they say, might be a more realistic time frame.

Neutral: “I don’t know that it changes anything,” said Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust. “I’m still quite optimistic we’re going to get this done. I’d still put it probably over a 60 percent chance. I think members of Congress really, really want to reauthorize this law.”

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Liana Loewus, Assistant Managing Editor contributed to this article.