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What to Watch at Wednesday’s ESEA Markup

By Alyson Klein — October 18, 2011 3 min read
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Attention Washington education lobbyists: Don’t make dinner plans for Wednesday night.

There are 144 amendments filed in advance of Wednesday’s markup of the ESEA reauthorization billintroduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo.

And apparently more than half of those amendments—74—are from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is not a huge fan of the U.S. Department of Education. Paul put out a statement today essentially saying the whole markup process is moving too fast and 800-plus pages is too long for the bill. Putting out 74 amendments is one way to slow the pace, I suppose.

Here’s a list of some amendments to watch:

• Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has seven amendments, one of which would clarify the secretary of education’s waiver authority to basically say, no conditional waivers. That would put the kibosh on the department’s waiver plan, which is slated to go live early next year. Another would scrap the achievement gap language in the bill. Another would scrap provisions relating to highly qualified teachers.

• Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., will introduce an amendment to ensure that Title II funding (which covers teachers) is distributed equitably. And he’ll introduce an amendment basically striking the part of the bill that deals with program consolidation and putting in place his own ideas, introduced in thislegislation.

• Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is expected to put forth an amendment that would strike language in a spending bill last year that makes it easier for teachers in alternative certification programs to be considered “highly qualified” under the ESEA law, advocates say. Lots more background here.

• Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., may introduce an amendment that would allow states to opt out of the law’s assessment requirements, unless the federal government provides funding, advocates say. This is not a surprise, given that, as attorney general of Connecticut, Blumenthal sued the feds over funding for the No Child Left Behind Act.

• Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is likely to put forth an amendment that would eliminate caps on the number of students with disabilities that can be kept out of the accountability system, advocates say.

• Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is expected to introduce an amendment to restore the law’s tutoring provisions, advocates say.

Other amendments include:

• Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., will introduce an amendment codifying ARPA-ED. Great background here.

• Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., will introduce amendments on financial literacy, turnaround principals, and early-college high schools.

And another that might not actually get a vote tomorrow:

• Bennet, who is the administration’s closest ally on K-12 policy, will introduce an amendment that would seek to put student achievement goals in the legislation. As I’m sure you remember, civil rights groups are very unhappy with the fact that the bill wouldn’t set achievement targets for specific groups of students. It looks like the language Bennet will introduce is more or less identical to what’s in the administration’s waiver plan, which presents states with three different options for goal setting.

Bennet may introduce, then withdraw the language, which would mean he’s putting it out there to let folks know that he’s sympathetic to the civil rights groups’ concerns, but wants to work with Harkin, Enzi, and others on the issue as the bill moves forward instead of changing the bill in committee.

Where can you find a comprehensive list of amendments online? You can’t. They’re not public yet. That’s apparently standard procedure for this particular committee.

In general, Democrats are being discouraged from asking for votes on big, substantive amendments, advocates say. Also, only Harkin and Enzi are going to give opening statements, which will save time, but might make it tough for folks to see from the get-go where everyone stands. Members can put out their own statements to the press, of course.