According to this week’s Education Week article about the election results, the new leader of the House Education and Labor committee is likely to be Minnesota Republican John Kline. Kline will replace one of the authors and principal sponsors of No Child Left Behind, George Miller. This may bring a welcome shift in priorities. I took a look at Congressman Kline’s positions in recent years, and discovered that this Minnesotan may take us in a very different direction on education policy. According to his website, one of his top priorities is fully funding special education. The Federal government mandates extensive services be available to special ed students, but does not fund them adequately. As a result, these students are often not served as well as they should be, or their services come at the expense of other programs. Kline said:
I strongly believe Congress can and should provide the funding schools were promised under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - or IDEA. And Congress should ensure we do so before we even consider authorizing new programs.
Almost 35 years ago Congress authorized IDEA to ensure children with disabilities would receive the same educational opportunities as their peers; along with IDEA came a promise to fund 40 percent of the excess cost of special education and related services. However, since 1975 we have never met that promise. In fact, we have never even come close.
But even more significant is Kline’s perspective on No Child Left Behind. Although education secretary Arne Duncan has shed the NCLB moniker, most of the test and punish elements of the original law are still in effect -- and some even made more harsh. Duncan hopes to create a bipartisan consensus around reauthorizing the law, under its original name, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But he is likely to run into some trouble with Kline. According to this Washington Post article from the summer of 2009, Kline has a different approach.
Unlike his predecessors, who gave Bush crucial support for the law, Kline said he is not committed to the core requirement of testing all students in reading and math in grades three through eight, and once more in high school. He said he wants to give states "maximum latitude."
I'm not looking to tweak No Child Left Behind," Kline said. "As far as I'm concerned, we ought to go in and look at the whole thing."
Back in July of 2009, Republicans like Kline had little power to put their ideas into practice. The latest election, however, changes that landscape decisively, and that is going to be felt as strongly in education as anywhere. Those of us who have been critical of the Federal role in education may find fresh traction under the new leadership.
What do you think? Does new leadership offer us a chance to shift Federal policies?
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