The process of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind) has been a long time coming. Each federal education law must be reexamined through the reauthorization process, generally every five years, to determine if the law is working, if changes need to be made, or if it is no longer relevant or necessary. The process of reauthorizing the ESEA began in 2007, but without success. Finally, the process appears to have gained momentum, although the end is not yet in sight.
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, issued a draft ESEA bill in January and requested comments from organizations and individuals. LDA sent fairly extensive comments which are available at https://ldaamerica.org/ on the Home page. Since that time Chairman Alexander and ranking Democrat Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) have been engaged in conversations to produce a bipartisan bill.
HELP Committee staff and Senators Alexander and Murray have been negotiating since early February specifically on two parts of the law – Title I, addressing academic improvement for low-income and other disadvantaged students, and Title IX, which contains fiscal provisions such as maintenance of effort. Staff members have been gathering information also on the other titles of the law. The chairman and ranking member had hoped to bring a bipartisan bill to the Committee for consideration in mid-February; however, negotiations are still ongoing. They have recently announced the bill will be marked up in the HELP Committee the week of April 13. It is anticipated that most of the major provisions of the bill will have been negotiated, and other smaller issues will be handled through the amendment process.
On the House side, the Committee on Education and the Workforce took up basically the same bill – the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) – passed by the House in the last Congress. Unfortunately, this bill does not have bipartisan support, and was reported out of the Committee with no Democrats voting in favor. The bill then proceeded to the House floor. After a day of debate on numerous amendments, the bill was pulled from consideration. Some conservative Republicans believe the bill does not go far enough in reducing the federal role in education, while most Democrats feel the bill gives States and local school districts too much control. As of now, no date has been scheduled to continue debate on the bill.
While both bills make their way through the respective chambers, one issue looms over the process. The Senate and House versions are quite different. Once each bill has been passed, a conference committee will face the difficult task of reconciling the differences in the bills. If the conference committee succeeds in finding a compromise, it is unclear if the president will sign the bill.
LDA continues to make visits to congressional offices to discuss our recommendations for a reauthorized ESEA. We will keep you updated as the process moves forward; with the hope this Congress can find solutions that will improve educational outcomes for all students.