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State Chiefs to Members of Congress: Reauthorize ESEA Now

By Lauren Camera — March 23, 2015 2 min read
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When state chiefs from across the country meet with their members of Congress Tuesday, they’re planning to deliver one important message: reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act now.

That was the directive from Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Peter Zamora, the federal relations director of CCSSO, Monday morning during a panel at the group’s annual legislative conference in Washington.

“States really do need a permanent federal policy going forward,” Zamora said.

Minnich and Zamora explained to the group of state superintendents and others at the conference where both chambers stand in their efforts to overhaul the K-12 law. The update included the ongoing bipartisan negotiations between Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate education committee, and the ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., as well as the stalled momentum in the House of Representatives.

(You can read about the Senate negotiations here and the collapse in the House here.)

“This bill is not dead,” emphasized Zamora. “We are having substantive conversations with Hill staff. This is a critical period we’re entering into in the next several weeks and months.”

Minnich and Zamora stressed, as most education policy experts have already mused, that if the House can’t pass its Republican-backed proposal to rewrite the law, the chances are slim that the bill gets reauthorized at all.

“The House needs to approve a bill in order to conference,” Zamora said. “If the House can’t approve a bill that’s this conservative, then it does cause a problem in getting ESEA done.”

And if Congress is unable to reauthorize the law this year, it leaves the door open for future administrations to do whatever they please with the Obama administration’s waivers from provisions of the law.

Case in point: Terry Holliday, the outspoken state superintendent of Kentucky, asked what might happen to the education policies included in waivers if Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, were elected the next president. (Cruz announced his candidacy for the 2016 election in a tweet sent just after midnight on Monday becoming the first GOP candidate to officially toss his hat in the ring.)

“If the federal education policy becomes a political instrument for whoever happens to be in the White House, that is deeply troubling for the future,” said Zamora.

Minnich, in trying to find a silver lining, noted that in a similarly partisan congressional atmosphere, Alexander and Murray were key players in successfully brokering a bill last year that overhauled the federal workforce law.

“I wouldn’t expect ESEA to be a slam-dunk or even particularly likely, but ... the alternative to an ESEA reauthorization in this Congress is very problematic,” he said.

The state superintendents are meeting with their members of Congress on Tuesady, as well as with Alexander, Murray, and Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the author of the House bill.

CORRECTION: Several remarks in this story were originally attributed to Chris Minnich, the executive director of CCSSO. They have been updated to reflect that Peter Zamora, CCSSO’s federal relations director, made the remarks.