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Could Congress ‘Patch’ ESEA?

By Alyson Klein — November 09, 2010 2 min read

We all know that the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been, well, pending for quite a while. And while education has been identified as one issue that could garner bipartisan support in the new Congress, it’s also possible that it might face some major partisan (not to mention intraparty) gridlock.

Meanwhile, until reauthorization happens, schools are still subject to the current version of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. Pretty much everyone, including congressional leaders, school folks, states, and the Obama administration, agree that the law has some big problems. And 2014, the deadline in the law for bringing all students to proficiency in math and reading, is fast approaching, meaning that tons more schools are going to be subject to the NCLB’s sanctions.

Now some are wondering whether Congress will try to move a more limited bill that fixes some of the issues with the current law.

The American Enterprise Institute held a discussion on ESEA and the election fallout today. You can (and should!) check out the full discussion here. But this issue of an NCLB “patch” came up.

Rick Hess of AEI, of Rick Hess Straight Up fame, said he thinks it’s almost a sure thing that Congress will come up with a limited “fixer” bill in 2011. He put the odds at about 75 percent. He said the fixer would probably “relax any consequences” of NCLB, without actually changing the structure, and didn’t sound too thrilled about the prospect.

But Lindsay Hunsicker, the top education aide for Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said she didn’t think her boss would be interested in “piecemeal” legislation, because that typically means that politically tricky issues go unresolved.

Also, interestingly, Hunsicker said she thinks that Republicans could find much to like in the administration’s ESEA renewal blueprint, which was released last March, got good reviews from some key players, and then never made it to legislative prime time. Hunsicker said that much of what is in the blueprint could jibe with the new push for leaner, more limited government.

She also addressed the administration’s push for more competitive grant funding. In her view, while competitive grants can help schools spend money better, they may put rural schools at a major disadvantage because they can’t afford grant writers. Rural schools also may not access to the same kinds of external partners that are available to schools in urban areas.