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House Looks to Resurrect ESEA Bill for Action as Early as Next Week

By Lauren Camera — June 10, 2015 2 min read
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Months after Republican leaders in Congress yanked a GOP-backed Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization off the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives amid sinking support from their own caucus, they appear poised to call it up again.

As early as next week, according to sources, the Student Success Act could be brought to the floor under a new rule that allows members to vote on three new amendments in addition to final passage of the bill.

The momentum comes after a difficult three months of whipping the bill which began losing support from Republicans after the Club for Growth and Heritage Action—two powerful conservative lobby organizations—announced their opposition to it. The groups warned that if members voted in favor of the measure, it would count against them in a scoring rubric the organizations use to rate which members are most faithful to conservative principles of the GOP.

Among other things, the groups wanted to see provisions in the bill that would have pulled the federal government out of education entirely and would have allowed federal funds for low-income students to follow students to the school of their choice, including private schools.

Some members wanted to address those priorities by offering amendments like the proposed A-Plus Act, which lets states opt-out of accountability altogether, and others that deal with Title I portability. However, the rules committee, which decides how bills are debated on the House floor, did not allow members to offer such proposals when the bill was first debated back in February.

Now, education policy experts said that two of the three amendments that members may get to vote on if the bill is brought back to the floor would likely deal with the A-Plus Act and Title I portability. That way, explained Martin West, previously an education policy advisor to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., House Republicans would feel more comfortable voting on the bill overall.

“My expectation for how they would do that is allow conservatives to offer and vote on amendments that would look like the A-Plus proposal,” said West, who spoke at the Brookings Institution Wednesday afternoon on a panel about how to get education bills across the finish line.

“The strategy is that if they let conservatives vote on that, it would likely not win because it doesn’t have unanimous support even among Republicans,” he said. “Whether [the strategy] is working or not, I don’t know.”

The bill’s possible resurrection would come as the U.S. Senate is similarly prepping to debate a bipartisan overhaul of the federal K-12 law as early as the week of June 22.

While the two reauthorization proposals are markedly different, the biggest point of contention ahead of debate in the Senate is over whether or not to beef up accountability language, particularly dealing with states’ poorest-performing schools.

Indeed, the House Tri-Caucus, a coalition of 84 members that represent the Asian Pacific American, Black, and Hispanic Caucuses, sent a letter to Senate education leaders Tuesday to underscore their opposition to the Senate bill as-is, and request the addition of better safeguards for subgroups of students, including minority students, students with disabilities, English-language learners, and students from low-income families.