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More Leadership Chaos in Washington, More ESEA Forecasting

By Alyson Klein — October 09, 2015 3 min read
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Another week, another congressional leadership scuffle, another round of: “What does this mean for passage of a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act?”

After all, this looked like it would finally, finally be the year it happened, what with bills passing the Senate (by a big, bipartisan vote), and the House (just barely, and with only GOP support).

The latest twist for you non-Congress geeks: Rep. John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, announced his resignation last month, saying he’d stay until the end of October. It looked like Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the majority leader, was his natural successor. But Thursday, McCarthy announced he wasn’t going to pursue the job.

That leaves the House, well ... kind of in chaos for a while. Boehner has said he’ll stick it out until there’s someone else in the speaker’s chair. And some folks are hoping that while he’s hanging around, he’ll clear a bunch of legislation with bipartisan support, including ESEA.

Meanwhile, key congressional aides are said to be burning the midnight oil in a push to get the conference report done quickly, but also, you know, in a way that will actually result in a well-crafted law.

Advocates are also working really hard. Check out this letter from members of Congress interested in science, mathematics, technology, and engineering on the need to include resources for STEM in the legislation.

Even before the leadership turnover, there were complicating factors, including a crowded legislative calendar and the announced resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Another complicating factor: Heritage Action, a conservative organization that helped temporarily put the brakes on the House rewrite earlier this year, is out with a to-do list for the new speaker, whomever that may be. And on it? A line warning the new leader against an NCLB rewrite that closely mirrors the Senate’s biparitsan version. “House Republicans rightly criticized the Senate’s reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. There is no reason for the House to proceed to a conference with such a bill,” Heritage says.

On the plus side? The bills’ sponsors—Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.—really want to get the bill finished. So does the White House, folks say.

Are lawmakers aiming to finish as soon as possible, so that Boehner can be the one to see the bill through? After all, it’s unlikely a speaker who has already said he’s retiring is going to be afraid to put a bill on the floor of the House that will need Democratic support to pass.

Here’s what aides for the Senate bill’s sponsors say:

Alexander aide: “We are committed to getting a result, and there is no one better to guide the conference to completion and passage on the House floor than John Kline. The discussions will be finished when they are finished, and we don’t want to set any artificial timelines that would hurt the ability to get the result that 50 million students, their parents, and teachers expect us to get.”

Murray aide: “Sen. Murray hopes that regardless of what is going on in Congress, Republicans and Democrats can continue to work together in a bipartisan way to fix No Child Left Behind for students and families.”

Also ... Twitter has some thoughts:

And: Kline’s retiring next year. His name was floated as a possible temporary caretaker speaker. If that actually happens? Education advocates can have a dance party then book a vacation to some tropical island, the legislation is as good as done.

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