Congress is about to leave town for the year—and just as they did last year at this time, lawmakers have a lot of unfinished business waiting for them when they return in January. Every major piece of education legislation—from the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to the Higher Education Act to the Education Sciences Reform Act to vocational education—is pending.
Will lawmakers be able to check any bills off their to-do list next year? And was this past session productive—or just a lot of spinning of wheels? To get a handle on those questions, I chatted with Rep. John Kline, R-Minn, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the panel’s ranking member. (Check out Miller’s interview here.)
Here’s what Kline had to say about what the committee has gotten done, and what he sees as a prospects for next year:
Obviously the student loan deal was instructive for all of us on how to get something together. [It was] a little more time-consuming and a little bit of a tougher lift than I would have thought, but we got it through. ... We did get, after some discussion, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children legislation, which was about to expire. ... We got that through.
And on ESEA, he added,
I think it's not insignificant that we moved legislation, not only through committee but through the floor of the House. As you know, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is way overdue. ... We passed it on the floor of the House, it's now given the Senate something to do, and we've done that sort of, again and again. ... Now we are in some conversations, at the staff level and at the principal level with some folks in the Senate to see, can they get something to the floor? I've talked to [Sen.] Johnny Isakson [a Republican from Georgia] quite a bit about it, and [Sen.] Lamar Alexander [a Republican from Tennessee] as recently as [last week] about it...We're not stepping back. We want to keep pushing forward. ... Right now the Senate needs to move on some of these things.
•On whether ESEA reauthorization—or any of education legislation—can make it over the finish line by the end of this term of Congress, or by the end of the Obama administration:
I certainly hope so. We'd like to get some of them done this year, and where we can't, we'd like them all teed up in the House and Senate so that [we] can move very quickly in the next Congress.
•On his agenda for 2014:
Kline said the committee will be moving forward on reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the largest federal program for high schools. And he added,
We're pressing on with higher education reauthorization. We've already had about 11 hearings... We've come really close to getting agreement on ESRA, [referring to the Education Sciences Reform Act], as you know, and we're not going to let up on that. We've got some discussions about what the funding line will be ... but I would have to say, that these things aren't happening easily, and quickly, but it doesn't mean we're not continuing to work on it. ... There's a growing discussion about the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start, in light of the president's proposal for universal pre-K ... He's not gotten support [for that] here. This is a hugely expensive program that's a gigantic cost shift to the states, and it doesn't make sense from my perspective ... to be moving forward with legislation like that when we haven't even looked at programs like Head Start to see if they're working the way they're supposed to be working. So we have lots of oversight to do. We're going to continue to have hearings, we're going to continue to try to move towards getting the big pieces done like the Higher Education Act, see where we can get some bipartisan support.
•On whether lawmakers can find a way to agree on authorization levels, which will come up in every bill renewal.
Those are discussions we're going to have as we go forward. ... [On ESRA] we sort of hit a block here after we worked through all of the policy issues, then we reached the funding issue and that's a conversation we have to have with Republicans and Democrats at the committee level, and probably at the leadership level about how we're going to proceed with those, but those are things that can happen.
•On the influence of “tea party” (my word) and more conservative Republicans on negotiations over education legislation:
If you look at legislation that we've passed in the committee and on the floor, we passed broad [bills] with a whole broad range of Republican support. ... That speaks to the opportunity to go and get some bipartisan support if the Senate moves something.
•On whether a new ESEA would include a federal role in teacher evaluation. (That’s something Kline supports, but that his caucus rejected):
Well, I want to get legislation turned into law. ... I'm not going to pre-negotiate that.