Federal

Rough Path Seen for Senate’s ESEA Bill

By Alyson Klein — November 11, 2011 5 min read
Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., left, huddles with Sen. Lamar Alexander R-Tenn., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, right, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, during the Nov. 8 hearing on a Senate bill to make over the No Child Left Behind Act.

The prospects for a bipartisan, comprehensive rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act moving through Congress this session remain cloudy, even after a hearing on a bill last week that was intended to serve as a prerequisite for sending it to the floor of the U.S. Senate.

During the Nov. 8 hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Republicans continued to express tepid support for the measure, while civil rights advocates typically aligned with Democrats lambasted the bill as a major step backward on student accountability.

For his part, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the committee chairman, made it clear that the measure approved by the committee Oct. 20 is a compromise.

“This bill that we have will not solve every problem in elementary and secondary education. ... No bill has everything everybody wants,” Sen. Harkin said of the bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., the top Republican on the panel. He said the central question is: “Does it advance the cause of finding proper balances between federal, state, and local?”

The Obama administration—which is offering states waivers of some provisions of the current version of the law—has been quietly critical of the bill’s handling of two key issues: accountability and teacher evaluation. But Sen. Harkin said after the hearing that those decisions were the result of the need for bipartisan compromise with Sen. Enzi.

“The administration can say those things,” Mr. Harkin said of such critiques. “They never had to negotiate with anyone to get those waivers.” The waivers would give states wiggle room under the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the ESEA, but only if they advance certain reform priorities favored by the administration.

It’s unusual for a congressional committee to hold a hearing on a bill it’s already passed. But during last month’s markup of the Harkin-Enzi bill, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., threatened to slow down the process of committee consideration unless the panel held a hearing that included representatives from groups that would implement the law, such as teachers, principals, and superintendents.

GOP Pushback

Sen. Paul took the opportunity at the hearing to reiterate his view that the federal government should stay out of K-12 policy.

“The farther we get away from the local school board, the worse it gets,” said the Kentucky senator. And he said he is “concerned that we still have a testing mandate. I don’t think we fixed that.”

Other Republicans may also be seeking changes to the bill if and when it gets to the Senate floor.

Sen. Enzi said he would like to see “a much smaller federal role” in education and “fewer programs” and was sorry that “the markup moved in the opposite direction.”

Right after the panel’s 15-7 vote on Oct. 20, Sen. Harkin said he’d like to move the bill to the Senate floor as soon as possible. He said he was hoping to get it passed in time to stop the administration’s package of waivers. Thirty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, have announced their intention to apply for the waivers.

But it doesn’t appear that the bill will be approved in time to head off the waiver package. For one thing, senators still have to approve spending bills and consider recommendations before year’s end from the “supercommittee” charged with making long-range proposals for cutting the federal deficit.

“Ultimately, the decision to bring legislation to the floor rests with Senate leadership,” said Justine Sessions, a spokeswoman for Sen. Harkin. “Chairman Harkin is working with them on the bipartisan legislation approved by the HELP Committee last month, but he is also aware that the Senate floor schedule is extremely crowded.”

Accountability ‘Retreat’?

The hearing was done in a roundtable format. Witnesses were asked to explain which parts of the bill they particularly liked and which parts they thought needed work.

Jon Schnur, a co-founder and the chairman of the board for New Leaders, a nonprofit organization in New York City that helps train principals to work in underperforming schools, said he thought the committee should consider a big incentive for developing evaluation systems. One possibility could be to award competitively at least half of Title II funding—the nearly $2.5 billion that states get each year for teacher quality—instead giving it all out by formula.

Elmer Thomas, the principal at Madison Central High School in Richmond, Ky., said he was glad to see the committee was “getting rid of punitive [adequate yearly progress] sanctions.”

A broad coalition of civil rights and business groups, including the Washington-based Children’s Defense Fund, the Education Trust, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, remains opposed to the legislation, however. Their views were represented at the hearing by Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who called the bill “a historic retreat from accountability.”

After the hearing, a Senate aide sought to counter some of those claims, pointing to language in the bill that makes it clear that states must submit accountability plans that address the success of student subgroups, such as racial and ethnic minorities and students with disabilities. The main difference between the committee’s bill and current law is that there wouldn’t be a federal system of labeling schools, or federally spelled-out interventions for schools with lagging achievement.

That balance works for Tom Luna, the state superintendent in Idaho and the president-elect of the Council of Chief State School Officers. Idaho has embraced some major changes lately, including on teacher quality, merit pay, and technology initiatives—all without federal involvement, Mr. Luna, a Republican, said in an interview after the hearing.

“I think the reauthorization keeps the good parts of the No Child Left Behind Act,” he said, including the focus on disaggregating data for all students, while including some positive changes, such as growth models, which allow states to measure individual student progress.

He said he believes the scaling-back of the federal role is the right move. “I don’t think it’s a question of whether states can step up,” he said. “I think they’ve proven that they have.”

Mr. Luna added that he’d rather see a congressional rewrite in place of waivers. “Reauthorization is long term,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 16, 2011 edition of Education Week as ESEA Overhaul Bill Finally Gets Airing; Rough Path Remains

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Making Digital Literacy a Priority: An Administrator’s Perspective
Join us as we delve into the efforts of our panelists and their initiatives to make digital skills a “must have” for their district. We’ll discuss with district leadership how they have kept digital literacy
Content provided by Learning.com
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal CDC: Nearly 80 Percent of K-12, Child-Care Workers Have Had at Least One COVID-19 Shot
About four out of five teachers, school staffers, and child-care workers had first COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of March, CDC says.
2 min read
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11, 2021. Teachers received their first vaccine during an all-day event at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP
Federal Ed. Dept. to Review Title IX Rules on Sexual Assault, Gender Equity, LGBTQ Rights
The review could reopen a Trump-era debate on sexual assault in schools, and it could spark legal discord over transgender student rights.
4 min read
Symbols of gender.
iStock/Getty
Federal Q&A EdWeek Q&A: Miguel Cardona Talks Summer Learning, Mental Health, and State Tests
In an interview after a school reopening summit, the education secretary also addressed teachers' union concerns about CDC guidance.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal Senators Press Deputy Education Secretary Nominee on School Closures, Lost Learning Time
If confirmed, San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten would be the Education Department's number two as it urges in-person learning.
5 min read
San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten speaks at Lincoln High School in San Diego during the State of the District Address on Oct. 20, 2015.
San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten would be second in command at the U.S. Department of Education if confirmed as deputy secretary.
Misael Virgen/San Diego Union-Tribune