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Senate Education Committee Continues Beating Bipartisan Drum on ESEA

By Lauren Camera — April 15, 2015 4 min read
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Before Day Two of the Senate education committee’s markup of a bipartisan bill to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was interrupted by a series of votes on the federal budget and a bipartisan policy lunch on Wednesday, senators had whittled down their list of remaining amendments to 20.

The committee approved six (generally noncontroversial) amendments, all offered by Democrats, on a variety of issues, including expanding access to STEM subjects, ensuring low-income students have access to Advanced Placment and International Baccalaureate courses, and allowing states to use funding to create teacher and principal academies. (See full list below.)

The committee voted down two amendments, only one of which drew some fireworks—an amendment from Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., that would have ensured extra supports for students with dyslexia.

Democrats, including Sen Patty Murray, D-Wash., blasted the amendment, arguing that it ignores other disabilities.

“This amendment sends the message that this committee cares more about the education of one group of students with disabilities more than others,” Murray said, adding that she had more than a dozen letters from disability communities opposing the amendment.

Cassidy’s vote failed 10-12.

A vote on one amendment from Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., that has to do with Title II formula funding for teachers was postponed until this afternoon because there was some sense that a better bipartisan agreement could be reached.

The amendment would alter the Title II formula so that it’s based 80 percent on poverty and 20 percent on population. (The formula currently is based 65 percent on poverty and 35 percent on population.)

But Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., opposed that amendment because the underlying bill eliminates what’s known as the “hold harmless” provision in Title II. Hold harmless provisions are found in multiple titles of the bill and generally designed to safeguard any specific schools from substantial funding cuts.

The elimination of holds harmless language in addition to Burr’s suggested funding distribution change, would hurt states, like Pennsylvania, that are relatively wealthy and have dwindling populations.

Only one amendment was withdrawn. That one, from Casey, would have defined what it means for teachers and principals to be “profession-ready.”

Under the amendment, a teacher would be profession-ready, for example, only if he or she has completed a teacher-preparation program and is certified and licensed by the state; has demonstrated content knowledge in the subject being taught; and has demonstrated teaching skills, such as through a teacher-performance assessment or residency program.

Alexander thanked Casey for withdrawing the amendment and noted that it’s similar to the “highly qualified teacher” definition that the bill specifically eliminated due to its restrictive definition.

You can read about all 87 amendments filed here, and about the amendments that were debated and voted on Tuesday here. Here’s a list of the amendments offered Wednesday morning and the results:

  • An amendment from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., would ensure state policies work to reduce threats of physical and mental abuse related to seclusion and restraint. PASSED 12-10. (Vote held over from Tuesday.)
  • An amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., would authorize for six years the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act. PASSED via voice vote
  • An amendment from Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., would create a competitive-grant program that uses public television research-based education content to build math and reading skills for children 2 to-8 years old. PASSED via voice vote
  • An amendment from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., would improve access to high-quality STEM courses, and help train and recruit teachers for STEM subjects. PASSED 12-10
  • An amendment from Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., would allow states to use federal funds to create teacher and principal preparation academies. PASSED via voice vote
  • An amendment from Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., would have defined “workforce critical subject” as an academic or career/tech subject, including STEM or any subject identified by state as being critical for its emerging workforce. FAILED 10-12
  • An amendment from Franken would reinsert a specific funding stream to help expand access to accelerated learning programs to cover costs of AP/IB tests for low-income students. PASSED via voice vote
  • An amendment from Burr would alter the Title II funding formula so that it’s based on 80 percent poverty and 20 percent population. Vote postponed
  • An amendment from Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., would have ensured better supports for students with dyslexia. FAILED 10-12
  • An amendment from Casey would have defined what it means for a teacher or principal to be “profession-ready.” WITHDRAWN