from the Brustein & Manasevit - Federal Update | by email
Friday, March 27, 2015 1:15 PM :: In speeches to Council of Chief State School Officers conference attendees Tuesday, members of Congress insisted that the drive to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was still alive and that leadership in both the House and Senate is actively working on passing a bill.
Representative John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said that the House only needs a “handful” more votes before it can pass legislation that would reauthorize the law. The House bill, H.R. 5, was originally scheduled for a vote at the end of February but pulled from consideration at the last minute when several conservative advocacy organizations and lawmakers announced their intent to oppose it. Kline claimed that part of the opposition was based on confusion, and that he had to “educate” several lawmakers who did not realize that No Child Left Behind – and the current ESEA waivers – would remain in effect if they did not affirmatively act to change the law. Still, Kline admitted, he was surprised by the opposition to the legislation when a nearly identical bill had passed easily in the last Congress. “I thought it would sail through,” he said. “It didn't.”
Democrats were also less than enthusiastic about the legislation. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) said he would continue to oppose the legislation, regardless of whether that meant sticking with current law. “No bill is better than a bad bill,” he told the chiefs. But Kline said that he doesn’t think the House bill is the last word on the subject. “I know absolutely that the Student Success Act is not the legislation that will go to the president’s desk,” he said. “It’s going to take compromise. That’s a pejorative word around here, but that’s what you have to do.” Kline said he hoped to bring the bill to a final vote after Congress’ two-week Easter recess.
Meanwhile, Senate committee leaders said they would continue working on a compromise bill, which they expect to discuss in committee the week of April 13th. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, also said the final bill will represent a compromise. “Hopefully, the House will pass its version and we’ll go to conference, and the President and [Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan will have their say, and we’ll get a bill that can be signed in a bipartisan process through and through,” he said.
While Alexander said that issues like testing frequency had yet to be resolved in the Senate discussions, both he and Kline insisted that early education would not be part of a comprehensive ESEA re-write. Though Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the Committee’s top-ranking Democrat, and Secretary Duncan have said they want to include early childhood education in the bill, Alexander expressed some concerns. First, he said, he thought Congress should examine the success of existing early education programs like Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant before creating new programs. Second, he said that fixing the current law was “hard enough” without adding another element to the process. Kline echoed Alexander’s comments, saying that while there is “strong evidence” surrounding the importance of early education, ESEA reauthorization is not the right vehicle for expanding it.
ADDITIONALY: re: HR 2: the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 provides the Doctor Fix to Medicare and an extension of the Children Health Insurance Program (CHIPS). The bill was voted off the House floor last night and the Senate will take up when they return from spring recess in 2 weeks. The President has said he will sign the bill.
Lyndsey Layton, “GOP Lawmaker: I’m Short Votes for No Child Left Behind Rewrite,” The Washington Post, March 24, 2015.
Lauren Camera, “Slim Changes for Early Ed. in NCLB Rewrite, Says Sen. Lamar Alexander,” Education Week: Politics K-12, March 24, 2015.
Lauren Camera, “Rep. John Kline Hopeful for Vote on NCLB Rewrite After Easter Recess,” Education Week: Politics K-12, March 24, 2015.