ESEA Reauthorization Passes HELP Committee
On Wednesday, October 19, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee began mark-up of the bipartisan Harkin-Enzi ESEA reauthorization bill. There has been plenty of education policy buzz and analysis around the bill since it was first presented last week. We previously blogged an analysis comparing this bill with USED’s NCLB waiver requirements here.
Given the magnitude of the bill and trajectory of recent politics, an ESEA reauthorization bill wasn’t expected to even be attempted, much less passed successfully. Even during friendlier political climates, no such bill had never advanced this far (ESEA was supposed to be reauthorized almost 4 years ago and no bill had ever left the HELP committee). While mainstream media offered little coverage of the proceedings, education “wonks” across the country provided coverage via twitter (including yours truly); at one point #ESEA was a Twitter trending (meaning popular) topic—a big deal in social media circles.
The beginning of the meeting was not hopeful. With 144 amendments submitted for review, the HELP committee managed to debate just 3 before a procedural maneuver by Senator Paul (R-KY) halted the meeting (Paul had introduced 74 of the amendments himself). At that rate, it would have taken 48 straight days of meeting to continue, and education administrators across the nation gave up the glimmer of hope they had allowed themselves, getting back to work on the waivers 39 states (including Delaware) and Washington D.C. have committed to applying for.
And then overnight something miraculous happened—Senators worked together and not only dramatically reduced the number of amendments proposed, but also convinced Senator Paul to withdraw his objection to the meeting in return for a public hearing (to be held on November 8). The bill was ultimately passed through the committee just before 9:00 pm by a vote of 15-7 (unanimous Democratic support in addition to that of Senator Enzi, Kirk, and Alexander).
It’s important to note that this bill still has a long way to go. A number of important amendments were withdrawn for consideration to be reconsidered when the bill reaches the Senate floor, either to expedite the passing of the bill through the committee or because the impact of the amendments was wide enough that it was determined that all states should have a chance to debate the amendments. Given this and the current political environment, it is quite likely the final iteration of the bill will look much different than its current incarnation.
Loosely grouped, the amendments amounted to the following (for a more detailed report look here):
- Teacher and Leader Quality: Senator Franken (D-MN) passed an amendment creating an additional pipeline of effective principals. Meanwhile, an amendment many had thought would negatively impact Teach for America and other alternative route certification programs for teachers did not pass, despite Senator Sanders (I-VT) insistence that he supported such programs.
- School Turnaround: A hotly debated amendment proposed by Senator Alexander (R-TN) was ultimately passed that added a 7th turnaround school model (allowing states to design their own turnaround strategy to be approved by USED) to the four current models and two new ones proposed in the bill. Some applaud this move for its flexibility while others fear it may mean schools won’t attempt necessary reforms in favor of paths of less resistance. Meanwhile, Senator Hagan (D-NC) passed an amendment requiring principals hired for turnaround schools to be either experienced in the turnaround process or trained specifically for that purpose. Finally, Senator Alexander passed an amendment requiring students in the lowest performing 5% of schools in the nation (appx. 5000 schools) be given the choice to transfer to another school.
- Equitable Funding: Several amendments were considered aimed at equitable funding distribution. Forced teacher transfers were banned (proposed by Senator Franken), and the formula calculating Title II funding was changed (proposed by Senator Burr, R-NC).
- Data Tracking and Dropout Prevention: Several amendments were passed that involve tracking more data to better understand troubling trends and to decrease dropouts and increase college enrollment. An amendment by Senator Franken explicitly allowed computer-adaptive tests that give teachers instant feedback to inform instruction.
- “Special” programs: Senator Bennet (D-CO) passed an amendment supporting his GREAT Act, calling for more accountability of teacher prep programs by tracking test results of graduates. Senator Bingaman (D-NM) passed an amendment reauthorizing an education technology grant program. Senator Casey (D-PA) passed an amendment to provide funding to support subjects other than ELA, math, social studies, and science.