Congressional aides are said to be hard at work, trying to hammer out a final piece of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as quickly as possible (while, also, you know, crafting a good law.)
One (maybe longshot?) goal: Getting the measure done before Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the current speaker of the House, steps down and the political path forward for a bipartisan piece of legislation could become a lot dicier.
So what are the big issues to muddle through? Accountability has been garnering all the (wonky) headlines in the debate over reauthorization of ESEA (aka No Child Left Behind.) But there’s another issue that could be sticky in conference negotiations: ESEA’s many programs and whether they should stay “authorized” in the bill or not. (Quick federal policy tutorial for you non-Congress geeks: “Authorized” basically means: “officially blessed in a real live law.” But it doesn’t mean: “here’s some actual, real live money,” which would require appropriations or spending bills. ESEA is an “authorization” bill.)
The issue isn’t programs like Title I—the biggest federal funding stream directed at K-12, which is certain to stick around. It’s much smaller programs you may not even have heard of, like “Ready to Learn Television.”
Both the House and Senate bills seek to slim down the federal role. But the bipartisan Senate measure would keep many more programs than the House bill, which made it through the chamber this summer with only GOP support.
Overall, the Senate bill keeps at least 10 programs that the House bill would cut. Plus it creates some new ones.
Here’s a (partial) list of programs that would be scrapped under the House bill but would stay alive in the Senate bill, according to the Congressional Research Service. (Big thanks to the Committee for Education Funding’s executive director, Joel Packer, for pointing me to the report.)
- School Improvement Grants (which finances grants for low-performing schools),
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers (which funds afterschool and summer programs),
- Advanced Placement (funds grants for challenging coursework),
- Teaching of Traditional American History (funds, well, history programs),
- Promise Neighborhoods (an Obama program that helps schools pair academics with support services, including healthcare), grants for state assessments, and
- Elementary and Secondary School Counseling grants.
What’s more, the Senate bill would create more than half a dozen new programs, including state grants for preschool and a new research and innovation program that would serve as a successor of sorts to the Investing in Innovation program. It’s unclear how the innovation program will fare. But the early-childhood program is top priority for both the administration and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the lead sponsor of the Senate bill. That’s why most advocates expect it will make it into the final version.
There are also some programs that would be scrapped under both bills, including Reading First (a Bush-era program aimed at improving literacy that faced serious conflict of interest allegations) and School Dropout prevention.
So what will stay and what will go? Stay tuned.