Federal Opinion

On The HotSeat: Former Committee Insider Charles Barone

By Alexander Russo — October 09, 2007 4 min read
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The last few weeks have been somewhat of a triumphant return for longtime Hill staffer Charles Barone (pictured), who started posting knowledgeable comments on various blogs in September and then wrote a fascinating backgrounder on NCLB last week. There’ll be a parade next, I’m almost sure.

In the meantime, check out the HotSeat interview below, which touches on key topics like why there wasn’t differentiated rating in the old NCLB and the history of Miller-CTA dustups. Whether you know him from back in the day (I first met him back in the Hart Senate Office Building when we were both newbies) or never heard of the guy before, Barone always has interesting things to say. Not the least of which being that NCLB is going to get reauthorized sooner rather than later.Q: Why didn’t the original NCLB differentiate between schools that missed by one subgroup (or just by a little) and those that missed by many (or a lot)?

CB: The original ESEA reauthorizations bills introduced by Congressman Miller and Senator Bingaman did make such differentiations. Administration representatives said it created “too many boxes” and had to be dumped.

Q: Looking back, do you think that provision would have made a real difference in the amount of dislike that NCLB has encountered?

CB: It would have made the bill better, but no, it would not have reduced the amount of dislike, just the form of it. Some people will always dislike bright-line accountability. It presents a challenge that causes many people discomfort.

Q: Is it true that the real reason that SES came after the transfer requirement rather than before was that SES started out as bush’s voucher provision?

CB: There was something like SES in the final version of Bill Clinton’s “America Reads” initiative (1998/99). As I remember, SES came first in NCLB because one of the principles of the NCLB “Big Four” was that you worked where kids were first (keeping kids in the same school) before taken more involved measures.

Q: So then why is SES the second option in NCLB, not the first like it was in America Reads?

CB: Politics. The Administration was full on for it. And it’s hard for Democrats to argue that the school a kid goes to shouldn’t be determined by his or her zip code.

Q: What really happened about the funding deal -- did Spellings promise a certain level of funding, or was funding just a convenient excuse to bash bush and explain why you’re for a tough law?

CB: That discussion took place outside my purview.

Q: Was the outcry over NCLB funding in those early years genuine, or more likely a way to support a law everyone voted for without giving the President too much credit?

CB: Both.

Q: Why does the CTA hate your old boss so much?

CB: Hate?! That would be a question only CTA could answer.

Q: Has the CTA gone after your boss this hard, publicly or not, in the past [Katrina, class size]?

CB: What boss?  If you mean my old boss, George Miller, that’s a hard question to answer objectively. I don’t have full knowledge of CTA’s methods. I do remember that in 1998 after the Ed-Flex and Class Size Reduction debates, Miller was given a 60% rating by the NEA (3 for 5 scored bills) because he voted against Ed-Flex – GAO had found money had been redirected away from high-need areas with no accountability - and voted for a bipartisan Class Size Reduction amendment that would have ensured that poor children got assigned qualified teachers.

Q: Whether you agree with them or not, who’s the most effective education lobbying/advocacy group on the Hill -- good at getting their ideas into legislators’ minds and their language into bills?

CB: Right now, the civil rights and business groups are working together on NCLB v02. That is a very powerful combination.

Q: But isn’t that over now -- civil rights groups are against the Miller draft, business for it?

CB: No. They agree on many key issues, e.g., they are against the use of local assessments in calculating AYP and for the Miller-McKeon teacher merit pay provisions. It’s not over. Not by a long shot.

Q: What could your old boss do to appease the NEA but still have a bill that improves NCLB?

CB: God knows.

Q: What’s your prediction for when NCLB actually gets reauthorized -- this fall, next year, or with a new congress and president?

CB: I wish I had a crystal ball. But when two Committee Chairs and a President want to move a bill, they usually take it to the finish line.

Charles Barone is an independent consultant on education policy issues. From 2001-2003, he was Democratic Deputy Staff Director for the House Education and Labor Committee under Congressman George Miller, prior to which he served as Miller’s Legislative Director from 1997-2000. He first came to Capitol Hill as a Congressional Fellow in 1993 and subsequently became Chief Education Advisor to Senator Paul Simon. Before coming to Washington, Barone was a fellow in the Department of Psychology at Yale University. cbarone2@comcast.net.

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