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The Long Haul: ESEA Reauthorization Timeline

By Lauren Camera — May 12, 2015 5 min read
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U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., had their fingers crossed that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would schedule their bipartisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization bill for debate before the May 22 Memorial Day recess. But with McConnell having just teed up a debate on trade instead, that timeline now seems unlikely.

Hopes are still high for the bill to get on the floor in early June, but in the meantime, the bill is stuck in legislative limbo. Meanwhile, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., is still trying to cobble together enough support from his own party to put his ESEA rewrite back on the floor for a vote. Remember how leadership yanked back in February amid dwindling GOP support?

How does that Tom Petty song go? Oh that’s right. The waiting is the hardest part.

Well, while everyone is waiting, it might be helpful to take a look back at the most serious attempt by Congress at overhauling the federal K-12 law since it was last rewritten back in 2001 and branded as the No Child Left Behind Act.


Jan. 13: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Chairman of the Senate education committee unveils a draft of a conservative ESEA rewrite. On the same day, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., outlines her priorities for ESEA overhaul in a speech on the Senate chamber floor.

Jan. 21: Senate education committee convenes its first hearing on how to overhaul the ESEA law and focuses on testing and accountability.

Jan. 27: Senate education committee convenes its second hearing on how to overhaul the ESEA law and focuses on teachers and principals.

Feb. 3: Senate education committee convenes its third hearing on how to overhaul the ESEA law and focuses on how to let states innovate to better meet students’ needs.

Feb. 3: Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House education committee, introduces a bill, the Student Success Act (HR 5), which is modeled on the bill that the House passed in 2013. Kline also schedules a committee markup of the bill for Feb. 11, deciding to forego a hearing on the proposed legislation. He reasons that a hearing is unnecessary since the committee has held more than a dozen hearings on the topic in the past couple of years.

Feb. 4: : Democrats cry foul and argue that new members on both sides of the aisle deserve to hear from expert education witnesses about the federal K-12 law in order to better understand Kline’s bill and offer well-informed amendments. Kline doesn’t budge on his decision to go straight to a markup.

Feb. 5: Democrats hold their own hearing on how best to fix ESEA.

Feb. 6: Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate education committee, agree to start negotiating to produce a bipartisan rewrite of the ESEA law.

Feb. 7: Anti-testing advocates flood the in-boxes of congressional staff, urging lawmakers to put an end to high-stakes testing.

Feb. 10: Democrats introduce their own legislative proposal to overhaul the law and continue to push back against Kline’s timeline.

Feb. 11: The education committee clears Kline’s bill on a party-line vote, 22-15.

Feb. 13: The White House releases a report slamming Kline’s bill for low authorization levels and for including a provision that would allow Title I money for low-income students to follow them to the public schools of their choice, including charter schools.

Feb. 17: The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association launch separate grassroots lobbying efforts in hopes of continuing to push their priorities for the federal K-12 overhaul.

Feb. 19: House leadership schedules floor time for Kline’s bill for the week of Feb. 23.

Feb. 23: The committee in charge of setting the rule for how bills are debated is inundated with 125 amendments from House members who wish to add provisions or alter existing ones. In general, Republicans want to make the underlying bill more conservative, while Democrats want to restore protections in the bill for low-income students.

Feb. 25: The White House issues a veto threat against Kline’s bill.

Feb. 25: The rules committee approves 44 of the 125 amendments for debate on the chamber floor. Importantly, it does not OK a measure offered by Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., that would allow Title I money for low-income students to follow those students to private schools.

Feb. 26: The House begins debating the bill and votes on several amendments before breaking for the evening just before midnight with plans to resume the next morning.

Feb. 27: The House debate is interrupted throughout the day by a mounting intraparty fight over how to continue funding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, whose coffers were slated to run dry. Support for the ESEA measure begins to wane after the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, two influential conservative lobbying groups, urge GOP lawmakers to vote against Kline’s bill because it isn’t conservative enough, and after a post on a conservative, anti-Common Core State Standards blog slamming the bill goes viral.

Feb. 27: Without the votes to pass the bill, leadership pulls the measure from the House floor.

March 9: Alexander and Murray release a joint statement saying they are making progress on their negotiations and plan to mark up a bill in the education committee the week of April 13.

March 23: During the Council of Chief State School Officers annual legislative conference, state superintendents lobby members of Congress to overhaul the ESEA ASAP.

March 24: Kline says that he’s still struggling to garner support for his NCLB rewrite in the House and isn’t sure when leadership will reschedule the vote.

April 4, 2015: Details of the Alexander-Murray compromise begin to trickle in.

April 6, 2015: Education stakeholders, including the NEA and AASA, the School Superintendents Association, put pressure on lawmakers to get the ESEA reauthorization over the finish line.

April 7, 2014: Alexander and Murray officially unveil their bipartisan ESEA reauthorizatio proposal.

April 13, 2015: Stakeholders weigh in on the Alexander-Murray bill.

April 14, 2015: Senate education committee members file amendments before the markup of the Alexander-Murray bill.

April 14, 2015: Senate education committee wrestles with Title I amendments during the first day of the markup.

April 15, 2015: The Senate education committee continues considering amendments during the second day of the markup and spars over how to address bullying.

April 16, 2015: The Senate education committee unanimously approves the Alexander-Murray ESEA reauthorization.

April 21, 2015: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says the Alexander-Murray ESEA reauthorization is one of a handful of bills he plans to consider before Memorial Day.