A coalition of major education organizations joined together Tuesday in calling for the U.S. Senate to take up a bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Now.
The bill, authored by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., has been in the queue for floor debate for weeks, but has been passed over in favor of other congressional priorities. Most recently Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., decided to move to the Trade Promotion Authority, which likely punted the long-awaited federal K-12 debate to July.
“They’re just sitting on it,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the 3-million member National Education Association, during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, where leaders from 10 education groups gathered to press the senators to make the reauthorization a priority. “When someone tells you there is a long, long list of priorities and children are at the bottom of that list, it’s not a priority.”
In an interview with Education Week, Alexander said the Majority Leader has the “fortunate problem of having too many bipartisan bills to choose from,” but he agreed that seven years is too long to have not updated the law, which was last reauthorized in 2002 as No Child Left Behind.
“If we were being graded for our homework on [updating the bill], we would get an F,” he said.
“We’re certainly ready for it,” Alexander added. “Each of us have talked to the senators on our sides of the aisle and we’re finding broad support for the idea.”
The 10 groups that came together Tuesday include, among others, the NEA, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, AASA, the School Superintendents Association, National PTA, and the National Association of State Boards of Education. Collectively, the groups represent everyone from parents, teachers, and principals to state superintendents and school business officials.
“I don’t remember where the 10 of us have stood together on any issue, let along an issue as important as this,” said Chris Minnich, executive director of Council of Chief State School Officers. “We cannot lose this momentum. I urge Congress to put kids first and send the [bill] to the Senate floor for a vote.”
Minnich, along with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, specifically called for Congress to take up the bill before the Independence Day recess begins on June 26.
Should the reauthorization get pushed to July, members of Congress would have just 16 legislative days before their five-week summer recess begins July 30. But many of those days could easily get eaten up by efforts to pass a set of fiscal 2016 spending bills for federal agencies (including the U.S. Department of Education), among other things.
Alexander said that the July 4 deadline likely isn’t feasible since there are only two days left in the current work period, but he does anticipate the bill getting to the floor in July.
“When we talk to our representatives on the Hill, we hear that what it amounts to is that [they] have more important things to do,” said Daniel Domenech, the executive director of the AASA. “There can be nothing more important [than this bill]. Our collective voices could mean the difference between reauthorization or more time under a broken law.”
The pressure from the education groups comes after a number of civil rights organizations banded together last week to reiterate their continued opposition to the Senate bill as written and demand a slate of changes that would beef up accountability in the bipartisan measure.
When asked whether the demands for additional accountability were impacting the delay in the Senate, Minnich said, “There are ways to make the bill better as well. But we can’t have the conversation until the bill moves to the floor.”
And Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education put it this way: “It is a bipartisan bill, which means there is something in there that every one of us doesn’t like.”