So tomorrow, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will be marking up the Democrats’ only bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and has the backing of the rest of the committee. (Compare this bill to others here.)
It’s probably going nowhere this year, since there’s no bipartisan agreement. But it will be interesting to see who is on board and what amendments get introduced. There are only about 40 overall. (So go ahead and make those Wednesday night dinner reservations, education advocates.)
Some amendments to watch: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is going to introduce an amendment to replace the teacher evaluation language in the Harkin bill—and instead put in place the teacher provision from his bill. Alexander wants to make teacher evaluation through test scores an option in Title II, but not a requirement. Harkin wants to require states and districts to craft teacher evaluation systems based on student outcomes. The systems would have to be used for professional development and equitable distribution of teachers. Based on the National Education Association’s letter about the bill, it seems the union is cool with how things stand under the current Harkin language.
Alexander is also putting forth an amendment that would get rid of the comparability language in the bill (great explanation of comparability here) and instead put in place a provision that would allow Title I dollars to follow a student to any public school of his or her choice, as long as the state is OK with it. And of course, he’ll introduce his own ESEA bill, co-sponsored by some other committee members, as a substitute.
Harkin himself has an amendment that would clarify that states that don’t take Title I money can get out of many of the bill’s accountability requirements. This is basically the lawmakers telling states “you don’t have to do what we say, you just can’t have our money if you’re not going to play ball.”
Other amendments to watch:
•Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is new to the committee this year, has an amendment that would clarify that accountability provisions that apply to all public schools also apply to charters.
•Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican whose home state of North Carolina is arguably shortchanged by the current Title I funding formula (which puts a premium on population), has an amendment to change it. That issue was a flash point when the House considered its ESEA markup. Another Burr amendment would tie student lending rates to market forces—mixing K-12 and higher education. And another would eliminate a bunch of programs in the bill, including one on principal training and ARPA-ED (a new research program.) And yet another would eliminate the federal program that helps fund Advanced Placement.
•Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has her own Title I amendment, which appears to be more directive when it comes to state accountability systems than the Alexander version—the bill appears to contain performance measures. She’s also got one in the area of early childhood education. Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, the Republican co-author of the 2011 bill, also has a Title I amendment, which would appear to call for scaling back the federal role in accountability compared with the current Harkin bill.
•Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who threw a monkey wrench into the ESEA proceedings back in 2011, has just nine amendments this time. One would allow for Title I dollars to be used for private school choice. Another would limit the salaries of folks working at the U.S. Department of Education.
Some amendments from the 2011 markup are likely to make a reappearance, including an amendment by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to get rid of the language in the bill authorizing Race to the Top. Roberts also has an amendment that would limit the Secretary’s conditional waiver authority. And Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is reintroducing his amendment on special education testing.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has an amendment, with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to create an Office of Rural Schools within the Department (more here.)
Who likes this bill? So far civil rights groups—and the American Federation of Teachers, have put out supportive, or at least fairly supportive-ish statements. More here.
And you can read the NEA’s letter, which is essentially neutral, here.
What do groups representing practitioners think? The National School Boards Association doesn’t like the comparability language. Meanwhile, the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and even Chiefs for Change—which opposed the 2011 Harkin bill—seem cautious in their public comments so far. (My guess? They’re holding their powder. Why knock yourself out—and make enemies—working on a bill that isn’t likely to become law?)
So what will the big, broad, overall messaging be tomorrow? Democrats, particularly Harkin, are likely to talk about the education redesign efforts already underway in states (including through the Obama administration’s waivers) and how it’s important to encourage them, not disrupt them. And Republicans are gonna be all about “freedom!”