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Is Arne Duncan Serious About NCLB Reauthorization?

By Alyson Klein — August 08, 2013 2 min read
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Most folks Inside the Beltway already realize this, still bears saying: It’s unlikely that No Child Left Behind will be authorized this year—or even during President Barack Obama’s tenure. (Check out this recent poll.)

A big part of the reason? The administration itself.

Of course, the current partisan, polarized Brokedown Congress gets much (most?) of the blame. But White House leadership is essential for almost any legislative priority to make it to primetime. (Just look at health care.)

But the administration isn’t exactly killing itself to get an ESEA bill moving, even though the legislation authored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that passed with only Democratic support earlier this year is about as close to the administration’s vision for reauthorization as anything this Congress is likely to cough up.

Still, with waivers in place in 39 states and the District of Columbia, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is instead spending his time and effort on prekindergarten, a policy that probably has even less of a shot in a Congress bent on cracking down on spending.

Part of the reason for the administration’s lackadaisical approach: The department has lost some key players, including Carmel Martin, the former assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy (and a former Kennedy staffer). And Rahm Emanuel, the ex-White House chief of staff, was apparently a big driving force behind a lot of the administration’s early, prominent education redesign work, advocates say. (He’s now mixing it up with teachers’ unions as the mayor of Chicago.)

There’s also a much smaller team of folks from the Education Department at key hearings. It used to be a gaggle of about half a dozen staffers—now it’s often just a couple folks who show up...or even just one person. (The frequent solo-flyer I’ve spotted is Lloyd Horwich, the deputy assistant secretary in the office of legislation and congressional affairs.)

And some argue Duncan’s stock on the Hill may have diminished.

“You don’t hear the Hill talking a lot about what they can do to help Arne Duncan succeed or what they can do to help the president succeed on education,” said Andy Rotherham, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a former Clinton White House aide and author of the fabulous Eduwonk blog.

When it comes to ESEA “the stars are not aligned and it’s unclear what the administration’s argument is to align them,” he said.

Rotherham also noted that the administration hasn’t had many legislative victories on education. The Obama folks had massive good luck right out of the gate with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which remade the face of federal education policy through the Race to the Top program, and other competitive grants.

But the Obama administration hasn’t had big success with standalone education bill yet (unless you count the recent student loan legislation, which wasn’t exactly smooth sailing). Separately, the Obama folks also passed a complete makeover of the student loan program, but that legislation hitched a ride on the health care overhaul law.

That’s the cliff notes version. Read the full story here.

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