ESEA Reauthorization Continues to Move Slowly

House and Senate Tackling Bill in Different Approaches
Originally published in the summer 2011 edition of The Leader

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is four years overdue for reauthorization, and the current pace of negotiations continues to remain uninspiring. The House and the Senate have approached the reauthorization of the bill in separate ways and have yet to present anything that suggests the bill will be finished before the end of the summer.

The House’s Approach

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is approaching the reauthorization of ESEA in a piecemeal fashion by addressing the major sections of the law in a series of five bills.

The first bill approved by the committee is the Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act (H.R. 1891), sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), which eliminates more than 40 Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs.

The second bill approved by the committee is the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, (H.R. 2218), also sponsored by Rep. Hunter. This legislation would update the federal charter school program, currently authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which makes funding available to states to plan and start new schools.

H.R. 2218 specifies that state educational agencies, state charter school boards and state governors also may award subgrants for the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools. The bill authorizes $300 million for fiscal 2012 and for each of the five years thereafter, and was approved in a 34–5 bipartisan vote.

On July 7, Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) introduced the third bill, which allows Local Education Agencies and State Education Agencies to transfer up to 100 percent of funds from any ESEA formula program (other than impact aid) into any other (including to and from Title I). It also allows LEAs to transfer ESEA funds into Early Intervening Services under Section 613(f) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The Senate’s Approach

This year, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, set the spring recess as the deadline for introducing legislation to reauthorize ESEA. That deadline has passed and although a new deadline of July has been set, it is questionable as to whether anything will be agreed upon before the fall. Among other issues, it is reported that the areas of accountability and teacher effectiveness are holding up the process.

Unlike the House’s piecemeal approach, the Senate is working on a comprehensive bill. Sen. Harkin has been negotiating with members of both parties in the hopes of drafting a bipartisan bill. AFSA is reviewing several pieces of legislation introduced by members of the committee, including proposals that relate to turning around the lowest-performing schools, training for school leaders and improving literacy.

Duncan’s Unauthorized Relief Waivers

The number of schools labeled as failing under NCLB’s punitive sanctions continues to grow, and if changes are not made to the law soon, an overwhelming number of schools across the nation could be labeled as failing.

In a twist to the negotiations on Capitol Hill to reauthorize ESEA, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Department of Education is beginning to investigate how to address NCLB’s problems through regulatory flexibility, if necessary.

In a recent op-ed in Politico, Secretary Duncan said state and local school districts are buckling under the law’s goals and mandates as they wait for Congress to reauthorize NCLB.

“For this reason, our administration will develop a plan that trades regulatory flexibility for reform,” said Duncan. “If Congress does not complete work on reauthorization soon, we will be prepared with a process that will enable schools to move ahead with reform in the fall.”

AFSA members can continue to trust that AFSA will monitor the reauthorization process of ESEA closely and will keep members informed of any changes the secretary, House and Senate make to the nation’s education system.