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Senate Education Committee Unanimously Passes Bipartisan ESEA Rewrite

By Lauren Camera — April 16, 2015 3 min read
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In a calculated and largely fireworks-free markup of a bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act rewrite, members of the U.S. Senate education committee approved the measure 22-0 Thursday amid much back-slapping and promises to continue working across the aisle.

“The vote today is about how we conducted this markup,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman and co-author of the bill, who worked closely in crafting the measure with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member. “I can tell Sen. Murray was a preschool teacher ... [because] she plays well with others.”

“She suggested early on when I put down the chairman’s mark ... that that wasn’t the best way to deal with a contentious issue,” continued Alexander, referring to the original conservative bill he introduced in January. “That turned out to be good advice.”

Over the course of three days, committee members considered more than 50 amendments out of the 87 that were filed, most of which were either adopted via voice vote with little controversy or withdrawn out of respect for maintaining the bipartisan nature of the legislation.

On Day Three, the committee considered a handful of amendments, and approved three that focused on the funding formula for Title II, which deals with issues like teacher preparation. (See full list below.)

Only one amendment was offered and then withdrawn, from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who offered the Student Non-Discrimination Act that’s aimed at protecting LGBT students from harassment and bullying.

“I am going to continue to work on this because I feel so strongly about this,” Franken said. “It’s going to be hard to pass this amendment on the floor, but I believe I can do it. It’s our responsibility as adults to protect children. In America you cannot bully kids because of their race, ethnicity, disability, and in America you should not be able to bully a kid because he or she is LGBT.”

The issue of bullying headlined Tuesday afternoon’s markup session, with Alexander and Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., offering dueling amendments. All three amendments that deal with bullying have been punted to the floor debate.

In clearing the bill out of committee, Alexander and Murray overcame a major legislative hurdle that now readies the measure for prime-time debate in the Senate chamber. But that process, in addition to eliciting a much-more partisan debate, may prove challenging to even schedule.

The current legislative backlog includes an anti-human-trafficking bill, Loretta Lynch’s nomination for U.S. Attorney General, a congressional response to the Iran nuclear framework, and a looming vote on a conferenced fiscal year 2016 budget.

And while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has mentioned education as something the Senate might address this legislative work period, which ends May 22, the federal K-12 overhaul has yet to be specifically scheduled for floor time.

In addition to wrapping up the markup process for the ESEA overhaul, the committee also cleared two nominations for the U.S. Department of Education: Ericka Miller for Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, and Michael Yudin for Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

The committee also adopted technical changes to a federal workforce training measure signed into law last year.

Miss any of the markup? You can read about all the action here:

Committee members filed 87 amendments in total.

The markup began Tuesday and here’s an overview of the major debates and amendments adopted.

The markup continued Wednesday morning and picked up again later in the afternoon.

Here’s a list of the amendments offered Thursday and the results:

  • An amendment from Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., that would alter the Title II funding formula so that it’s based 80 percent on poverty and 20 percent on population. PASSED via voice vote
  • An amendment from Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., that would reinsert hold-harmless language 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.) PASSED 13-9
  • An amendment from Burr that would modify Casey’s hold-harmless amendment by mandating a 14.29 percent reduction each year over 7 years. PASSED 11-10
  • An amendment from Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., that would provide an exemption from use of a weighted lottery for schools that specialize in a specific learning disability. FAILED 5-17
  • An amendment from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., that would clarify that federal funds can be used to assist in the creation of programs to reduce juvenile delinquency FAILED 10-12
  • An amendment from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., that would add the Student Non-Discrimination Act to the base bill. WITHDRAWN

Final Passage on Amended Bill: 22-0