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Delay in Education Appropriations Process Angers Republicans

By Lauren Camera — June 12, 2014 2 min read
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The U.S. Senate committee responsible for funding education has postponed the markup up of its federal fiscal 2015 spending bill, and Republicans are angry.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., took to the Senate floor late Thursday afternoon, and accused Democrats of intentionally postponing the markup to prevent Republicans from offering their amendments.

“Apparently it was because some senators don’t want to vote on difficult or tough amendments,” Alexander said, adding that not being able to offer amendments is “like being in the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing.”

Alexander then proceeded to outline four of his amendments, including one which aims to curb the Common Core State Standards.

The amendment, he said, would prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from influencing the academic standards states use to define what students should know and be able to do, and the tests states use to determine whether students have met those standards. His amendment would also prohibit the department from requiring or incentivizing states to adopt common standards and tests as a condition of an award of a federal grant, by, for example, providing additional points or a preference in a competitive-grant program or as a condition of approval for waivers of requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act.

“In other words, the amendment directs the federal government to keep its sticky fingers off of state standards and not to interfere with the hard work states are doing to raise expectations for their students,” Alexander said. “This administration has used the combination of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and waivers from No Child Left Behind to, in effect, convert itself into a national school board, making decisions that states and local communities ought to make for themselves.”

The Committee on Appropriations markup of the bill was never officially scheduled, but members were expecting that it would occur Thursday morning. A spokesman for the committee said Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., hopes to schedule it soon.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee responsible for the education spending bill, wants to have a full committe markup of the bill, his spokeswoman, Kate Frischmann, said.

“Senator Harkin worked hard on a bill that meets critical needs with funding for Head Start, [the National Institutes of Health], and to ensure the maximum Pell Grant award,” Frischmann said. “He remains hopeful that we can still get on the bill this year.”

Harkin’s subcommittee held its markup Tuesday where, among other things, Democrats rejected a new iteration of Race to the Top aimed at bolstering education equity. You can read more about other programs the committee nixed here.

This is certainly not the first time a Republican has tried to infuse legislation with language to reel in the common core standards. A spate of Republican-sponsored legislation on Capitol Hill makes clear that the partisan edge to criticism of the academic standards isn’t restricted to state legislatures. Some GOP lawmakers—including Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., and Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C—have introduced bills that would admonish the Obama administration for its role in bolstering the common core and, in some cases, bar federal use of competitive grants or regulatory flexibility to encourage their adoption. Read more about that here.