The House education committee has taken a first step toward piecemeal reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by voting to slash more than 40 narrowly targeted programs from the U.S. Department of Education.
The measure, which was approved May 25 on a party-line vote of 23-16, would get rid of programs that the Republican majority sees as duplicative or not representing the right role for the federal government. The bill is the first in what is expected to be a series of modest, tightly focused bills the committee leadership says it will consider instead of a broader measure to reauthorize the ESEA, whose current version is the 9-year-old No Child Left Behind Act.
The programs that would be eliminated include a number of high-profile literacy initiatives that lost their funding in the fiscal year 2011 budget, including Striving Readers, the Even Start Family Literacy program, and Literacy Through School Libraries. (“Congress Wraps Up 2011 Budget,” April 20, 2011.)
And it includes some that haven’t been funded in a long time, such as the Star Schools Distance Learning Program, which last got $11.5 million in 2007.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the bill would “lessen the burden on schools by cutting the most unnecessary, duplicative education programs.”
And, in an opening statement at the May 25 markup session, he made it clear that it is just “a starting point that helps us narrow the role of the federal government while making sure that taxpayer dollars can be dedicated to the most efficient K-12 programs.”
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. George Miller of California, said the bill wouldn’t improve educational outcomes, however. “This bill eliminates education programs. It does so for the sake of eliminating education programs. Not for the sake of students,” Mr. Miller said. “Nothing in this bill advances or improves education for students.”
Scrap or Consolidate?
Mr. Miller agreed that some of the programs eliminated under the bill might be more effective if they were consolidated into broader funding streams, something that the Obama administration proposed in its budget requests for fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
But Mr. Miller said that by eliminating the programs entirely, the committee potentially was cutting off the Education Department’s access to valuable resources, since lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee were likely to slash all funding for program areas that the committee voted to terminate.
Prior to the vote, Democrats offered amendments that would have restored authorization for programs benefiting Native Alaskans and Hawaiians, and allowed the department to finance programs including literacy, teacher training, mental health and counseling, financial literacy, the arts, and teacher standards and recruitment. The amendments all failed on party-line votes.
One Republican, Rep. Todd Platts of Pennsylvania, sponsored measures to restore the authorization for Parent Information Resource Centers and for the Even Start family-literacy program, the latter of which was started by the panel’s former chairman, Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., whose district Rep. Platts now represents. The amendment to restore the PIRCs was narrowly approved.
K-12 education historically has been a bipartisan issue, and the Obama administration appears to be striving for an ESEA reauthorization that can draw both Democratic and Republican support. Democrats have a less than filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, while the House is under GOP control.
Although the final votes on the House committee’s bill were partisan, the overall tone of the debate was respectful. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., a past chairman of the committee with a long record of working with Democrats on education issues, said that lawmakers were all trying to make the best decisions for their own constituents.
“These issues are very heartfelt. ... I think we could find good things about lots of programs,” Mr. McKeon said.
It seems very unlikely, though, that the elimination measure as approved by the House committee would win the support of the Senate. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate education committee, has been outspoken in opposing the elimination of literacy programs, for example.
The Education Department declined to comment on the specifics of the legislation. But Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the agency, made it clear that the administration is frustrated with the pace of negotiations on the ESEA.
“We are worried that time is running out to pass a bipartisan bill by the start of next school year,” Mr. Hamilton said. “We need to fundamentally reform our K-12 laws by September, and we remain committed to using all of our resources to help make that happen.”
A version of this article appeared in the June 08, 2011 edition of Education Week as House Education Panel Passes Bill to Eliminate ‘Duplicative’ Programs