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Preview of House Education Committee Markup of NCLB Rewrite

By Lauren Camera — February 10, 2015 4 min read
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Ahead of tomorrow’s House education committee markup of a bill that would drastically overhaul the No Child Left Behind law, members on both sides of the aisle are prepping amendments they plan to offer in hopes of reshaping the opening bid of the committee’s chair, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.

On the right, lawmakers will offer amendments to further reduce the footprint of the federal government with proposals that would, for example, put in place a private school voucher system. On the left, members will try to wholesale replace the federal K-12 measure with one of their own, and also offer more-tailored amendments on a variety of issues, such as maintaining dedicated streams of funding for certain programs eliminated in the bill.

In fact, I’m betting that Wednesday’s markup will look pretty similar to the last time the committee marked up a nearly identical proposal back in 2013. From the vault of Politics K-12, some things of note that we saw back then that we’ll likely see again tomorrow:

  • Democrats taking issue with authorization levels;
  • Republicans wanting to include language that explicitly prohibits the secretary from incentivizing states to adopt the Common Core State Standards;
  • Members from rural districts trying to change the Title I funding formula.

But for now, here’s a list of amendments that we’ve nailed down. Check back throughout the day as this list is sure to grow!

  • Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., will offer a substitute amendment that would wholesale replace the bill with a Democratic version.
  • Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., will offer her testing bill as an amendment. That measure, which has bipartisan support in the House and is backed in the Senate by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., would allow states to use federal funds to audit their assessment systems and eliminate poor-quality and redundant tests.
  • Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., said in an interview that he hasn’t entirely made up his mind regarding amendments, but he might pitch to the committee two bills that he released this morning (he’s introduced these measures in previous Congresses as well): One would make the Obama administration’s Investing in Innovation competitive grant, which helps districts scale up promising practices, a permanent part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the decades-old law of which NCLB is the latest version). The other aims to better incorporate technology into teacher and principal professional development systems, and would require the input of teachers in the creation of such systems.
  • Rep. Martha Fudge, D-Ohio, will likely offer an amendment to strike the bill’s Title I portability language, which would allow federal dollars for low-income students to follow the students to the public school of their choice, including public charter schools, as long as states give the OK. More on the debate surrounding Title I portability here.
  • But Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., a huge fan of school choice, is expected to offer an amendment that would allow Title I dollars to be used at private schools, not just public schools, effectively creating a voucher system. If that amendment passes, it could seriously hinder the bill’s support among education organizations, who are already really unhappy with public school portability.

Will there be amendments that the two sides of the aisle might be able to find common ground on? Probably not.

“The fundamental problem Democrats have with this approach is that it pulls money away from the most disadvantaged kids,” said Polis in an interview on Tuesday. “As long as they’re slashing investments that help close achievement gaps ... there really aren’t a lot of other areas to talk about [where we could reach an agreement]. Their basic financial framework doesn’t work.”

So does Kline’s legislation have many supporters? Well, civil rights groups really hate it. “The proposals in front of Congress now throw the baby out with the bath water,” said Nancy Zirkin, the executive vice-president for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, because they would roll back the best thing about NCLB—holding states accountable for the performance of poor and minority kids.

And at least one of the education organizations that endorsed the bill back in 2013—AASA, the School Superintendents Association—is staying neutral this time around, for now. Edu-organizations like the reduction of the federal role in K-12 policy. But they really hate Title I portability, even for public schools, and especially for private schools. See the group’s letter to the committee here.

Meanwhile, the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures released their recommendations for revising the NCLB law Tuesday, ahead of the markup. Cliffnotes version? The groups support scaling back the federal role when it comes to accountability systems and school improvement. And they’d like to give states more control over testing, including the opportunity to use portfolios, performance-based tests, and other outside-the-bubble-sheet forms of assessment. The recommendations are silent, however, when it comes to how often those tests should be given (annually or just in certain grades.) That’s something the groups are still grappling with, an NGA spokeswoman said.

Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor contributed to this article.