House GOP Tosses ESEA-Reauthorization Bill Into Ring

By Erik W. Robelen — March 28, 2001 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Republicans on the House education committee last week introduced their version of legislation to enact President Bush’s precollegiate agenda. Their bill embraces Mr. Bush’s plans for more testing and more flexibility, and for providing educational vouchers to students in persistently failing schools.

At the same time, in a few areas, the bill diverges from the president’s approach, such as his proposal that states use the National Assessment of Educational Progress as a check on state testing programs. The bill would allow the use of other nationally recognized tests as well.

The proposed legislation comes as committee Republicans continue to negotiate with their Democratic counterparts in an effort to find common ground in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the flagship federal law in K-12 education. With a narrow Republican margin in the House and an evenly divided Senate, any final bill will require bipartisan support, analysts here say. The ESEA reauthorization is overdue, after Congress failed to complete work on it last year.

Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the GOP members’ bill seeks to focus greater attention on closing the achievement gap between students of different racial and economic groups, and would hand states and schools more flexibility in spending federal aid while demanding more accountability for improving student performance. It would require annual testing in grades 3-8 to measure that performance.

If a failing school did not turn around after three years, a portion of the school’s federal Title I aid, coupled with some state money, could be used to help pay the costs of attending another school, whether public or private, or to pay for tutoring. The creation of such vouchers is the most debated of Mr. Bush’s ideas.

“Without a strong safety valve at the end of this process, we’re really not serious about making sure no child in America is left behind,” Mr. Boehner said in making the argument for such a program during a March 22 press conference.

Testing Changes

Rep. George Miller of California, the education committee’s ranking Democrat, said “there is much to like, and much to dislike” in the GOP bill. Vouchers, for instance, are a political nonstarter, he suggested. “However, despite our differences on some key issues, I remain optimistic that ... we can forge a bipartisan agreement this year,” he said.

Still, he cautioned against changing the president’s plan to require states to use NAEP, which Mr. Miller favors. The GOP bill would allow states to use a benchmark other than NAEP, such as the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition, or the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, if they wish.

“I’m not sure who Bush has a bigger problem with, Democrats or his own party,” said Andrew J. Rotherham, the director of education policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, which is affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council. “They’re slowly ripping the guts out [of the president’s testing plan] because they don’t like it.”

But Sandy Kress, Mr. Bush’s education adviser, said that while the White House had concerns on the NAEP issue and in a few other areas, overall he was pleased with the House GOP legislation.

“This is an excellent bill,” he said. “We see so many ... reflections of the president’s policy here.” He added: “Clearly, there are places where we would want to work further with [Mr. Boehner] and his committee.”

Just days after he took office, President Bush unveiled his education plan, a 28-page blueprint for reshaping the federal role in schools. But he has left it up to Congress to take the lead in drafting legislation to enact his proposals. (“Democrats, GOP Agree in Principle on Federal Role,” Jan. 31, 2001.)

The Senate, meanwhile, is a step ahead in the process. Its Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee earlier this month unanimously approved its version of the ESEA. That bill also reflected many aspects of the president’s agenda, such as annual testing, his reading initiative, and consolidation of programs, though it excluded a few of the most controversial items, including vouchers.

Flexibility Measures

The new bill, HR 1, contains the president’s proposals for reading, and math and science instruction. It also echoes his call for penalties for states that failed to close the achievement gap and bonus awards for states that did.

The measure also takes a stab at making federal aid more flexible, a priority for Mr. Bush. HR 1, like the Senate bill, would consolidate most technology programs into a single fund and combine the class-size-reduction and Eisenhower professional-development programs into a broader teacher-quality initiative.

But HR 1 would also combine federal safe schools and after-school programs into a single, flexible fund. The Senate bill would keep those separate, as the White House would like.

Furthermore, HR 1 includes a version of the president’s proposal to let states or districts convert most of their ESEA funds into block grants in exchange for a five-year performance agreement with the Education Department. Most Democrats oppose the idea.

And the GOP bill contains a plan for “transferability,” which would allow either a school district or a state to shift a portion of its ESEA funds from one program area to another.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the March 28, 2001 edition of Education Week as House GOP Tosses ESEA-Reauthorization Bill Into Ring


English-Language Learners Webinar The Science of Reading and Multilingual Learners: What Educators Need to Know
Join experts in reading science and multilingual literacy to discuss what the latest research means for multilingual learners in classrooms adopting a science of reading-based approach.
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Use Your 'Teacher Voice,' Jill Biden Urges in a Push for Political Activism
Voting in the midterms is a critical step educators can take to bolster democracy, the first lady and other labor leaders told teachers.
5 min read
First Lady Jill Biden speaks during the American Federation of Teachers convention, Friday, July 15, 2022, in Boston.
First lady Jill Biden speaks during the American Federation of Teachers convention in Boston.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Federal Federal Initiative Leverages COVID Aid to Expand After-School, Summer Learning
The Education Department's Engage Every Student effort includes partnerships with civic organizations and professional groups.
3 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks at an event on June 2, 2022, at the Department of Education in Washington.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks at an event at the Department of Education in Washington in June. The department has announced a push for expanded access to after-school and summer learning programs.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Restraint and Seclusion, and Disability Rights: Ed. Department Has Work to Do, Audit Finds
The Government Accountability Office releases a checklist of how the U.S. Department of Education is performing on a list of priorities.
4 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. The Government Accountability Office has released recommended priorities for the Education Department that target special education rights.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Biden Administration Boosts Grants for Community Schools, Sharpens Funding Priorities
The Education Department will award $68 million through its Full-Service Community Schools program.
2 min read
First-graders Rhiannon Hanson, left, and Holden Ashbrook make fruit skewers in class at Lincoln Elementary School in Dubuque, Iowa, on Jan. 20, 2022. Project Rooted has partnered with Dubuque Community Schools for a pilot program in which it provides monthly boxes containing local foods and a project to first-grade classrooms.
First-graders Rhiannon Hanson, left, and Holden Ashbrook make fruit skewers at Lincoln Elementary School in Dubuque, Iowa. The U.S. Department of Education is providing grants to high-quality community schools that provide wraparound services like the nutrition programs at Lincoln Elementary.
Jessica Reilly/Telegraph Herald via AP