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White House Calls for More Accountability in Senate ESEA Bill, But No Veto Threat

By Alyson Klein — July 07, 2015 2 min read
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The White House has put out its statement of administration (Beltway speak for “official word”) on a bipartisan Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And, while the administration wishes the bill did more to ensure states focus on their lowest-performing students and schools, it stopped short of issuing a veto threat.

That matters because the White House has threatened to veto the House’s Republican-only ESEA bill, which is slated to go back to the House floor Wednesday. The legislation was pulled from consideration earlier this year, in the face of conservative opposition.

What’s the administration’s biggest beef with the Senate bill? The White House really wishes there was more accountability in the bill, including language requiring states to identify and provide supports to their lowest-performing schools, as well as schools with big achievement gaps and high schools with high dropout rates. (That’s not a surprise; it pretty much reiterates what U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said on a call with reporters Monday.)

And the administration is not thrilled that the bill would severely limit the education secretary’s authority, in a clear rebuke of Duncan and his ESEA waivers. The White House wants those provisions softened.

The administration might get its wish: Senators, including Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are working on amendments that would tighten up accountability provisions in the bill. And it sounds like state chiefs would like to see those provisions strengthened, too.

So what does the White House like? It’s happy the bill would authorize new resources for early childhood similar to the administration’s preschool development grants, and for innovation (a sort of light version of the Obama administration’s own Investing in Innovation program). Of course, both i3 and the preschool development grants are on the chopping block in GOP spending bills in both chambers, so just getting authorized under ESEA doesn’t mean much if there’s not going to be money to back that up.

Anything else on the Obama wish list for ESEA? Mostly wonky (but important!) stuff. The White House is hoping the Senate will adopt amendments calling on states to develop plans to ensure high- and low-poverty schools have access to the same resources, and close the so-called “comparability loophole.” (Tutorial here.)

Check out the statement for yourself right here:

S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act, is an important step forward in the process of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). The Administration appreciates the bipartisan effort that produced this legislation and wants to work with the Senate and House on a bipartisan basis to ensure that important changes are made to protect the most vulnerable students. The Administration looks forward to continuing to work with the Congress on a bipartisan basis to make these critical changes to S. 1177 before the bill is presented to the President for signature. The Administration supports the commitment in S. 1177 to holding all students to challenging academic standards, maintaining critical provisions that ensure teachers and parents know how students are performing every year, providing states and school districts with the flexibility needed for schools to improve outcomes for students, and providing additional transparency around resource and opportunity gaps. The Administration appreciates that S. 1177 would allow for critical investments in innovation and what works and excludes harmful provisions that would divert resources away from students, schools, and districts with the greatest economic needs. The Administration applauds the bipartisan commitment in S. 1177 to expand opportunities for America's children to attend high-quality preschool. In order to continue ESEA's legacy of equity and opportunity for every child in America, the Administration strongly urges revisions during Senate consideration of S. 1177 that would strengthen school accountability to close troubling achievement and opportunity gaps, including by requiring interventions and supports in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, in other schools where subgroups of students are not achieving, and in high schools where too many students do not graduate. Parents, families, and communities deserve to know that when children fall behind, their schools will take action to improve. Changes also are needed to S. 1177 to ensure that the Department of Education has the authority to implement the ESEA so that it works as intended to protect at-risk students and to provide accountability for taxpayer funds. The Administration also urges changes during Senate consideration of S. 1177 that would cap the amount of time spent annually on standardized testing and that would require parental notification when testing is consuming too much classroom learning time. S. 1177 should also be improved to better support America's teachers and principals and to deliver the resources and resource equity needed to strengthen our Nation's schools, including by requiring states to develop plans to address resource inequities and closing the longstanding "comparability" loophole to provide needed resources to vulnerable students in Title I schools. The Administration remains committed to working with the Congress on a bipartisan approach to replace NCLB with a law that expands opportunity for all of America's children.

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