As appropriators and leadership in Congress negotiated the final details of a massive spending bill to keep the government running, a few other Congressional leaders were having their own conversation on ESEA—and made a point of announcing that there will be no bipartisan deal on ESEA next year. A volley of statements between education committee leaders at the end of the day on Friday confirmed what NAESP has anticipated: In light of a vigorous election year on tap, Congress will not have the political will to come to consensus on a final ESEA bill next year.

Congressman John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, signaled both the demise of any current bipartisan talks to compromise on areas of disagreement on the law, and any attempts to come to consensus next year. While the Senate committee passed its compromised version in October, Democrats and Republicans in the House have been working for months on a bipartisan rewrite of the law, but have not been able to reach agreement on big issues such as accountability. “There were several areas where we forged new agreement, but others in which we ultimately could not come to a consensus. The urgency to reform the law has not changed. I look forward to a robust debate once legislation is introduced in the coming weeks,” Kline said, signifying that Republicans will move forward with their bill to reauthorize ESEA without any Democratic support. House Republicans began pushing ESEA through a piecemeal approach and a series of bills that have largely reflected Republican priorities in education. Only one bill on charter school reform has been considered on a bipartisan basis.  

In response to Chairman Kline’s comments yesterday afternoon, Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) stated:

“I have communicated to Chairman Kline my disappointment that he has chosen to go the partisan route. Partisanship means the end to NCLB reform in this Congress. Bipartisanship is the only successful way forward. The Senate has moved a bipartisan bill out of committee. The House could do the same if it had the political will to do so. Our nation’s children deserve a real process for achieving consensus, not partisan political games.”

A partisan ESEA bill in the House will certainly put the nail in the coffin on a final reauthorization until after the election in November 2012. Any further action in the Senate depended on the House. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has said that he will not advance the Senate bill until the House approves a bipartisan product.

In reaction to the House chairman’s remarks yesterday afternoon, Chairman Harkin continued the conversation by stating:

“Given that the HELP Committee was able to come to bipartisan agreement on a strong bill to reauthorize ESEA, I sincerely hope Chairman Kline will reconsider his decision to not pursue a bipartisan bill. There is widespread agreement that No Child Left Behind needs to be fixed for the sake of our nation’s children, and I hope we will not abandon the longstanding tradition of bipartisanship when it comes to the education of our kids. Without a bipartisan bill coming out of the House, I believe it would be difficult to find a path forward that will draw the support we need from both sides of the aisle to be able to send a final bill to the President that advances education for America's students."

Secretary Arne Duncan even weighed in, stating his disappointment that politics are in the way of a full ESEA reauthorization. However, this shines a spotlight on the considerable amount of authority the Obama administration has exerted in the current rule of the law. Until Congress can come to agreement on ESEA, the Secretary’s waivers to states will be the only significant attempt to fix the issues created by No Child Left Behind. However, not all states will apply for a waiver. 

For now, states, local districts, and schools will have to contend with policies that are implemented as a part of the administration’s waiver packages and Race to the Top and School Improvement Grant programs. And as we look to the coming year, the Congressional impasse on any final reauthorization of ESEA will allow NAESP to continue to push its advocacy agenda:

  • Protect the unique and critical role of principals;
  • Promote the principal’s vision for education reform; and
  • Preserve the principalship by sustaining high-quality professional development opportunities.

Given the coming year will be filled with partisan rhetoric and no real light at the end of the tunnel on ESEA, NAESP will continue to elicit feedback on issues that should be considered after the election and a new Congress is installed, hopefully motivated to seriously consider key fixes to the law.