Advocacy Update: Action on ESEA Reauth and 2016 Education Spending

By Kelly D. Pollitt Communicator March 2015, Volume 38, Issue 7

By Kelly D. Pollitt
March 2015, Volume 38, Issue 7

After nearly two months of work, final action on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) continues to elude education leaders on Capitol Hill. Senate and House education committee leaders met their commitment to make ESEA reauthorization their first priority for the 114th Congress, but long-standing battles over the law’s assessment and accountability provisions and disagreements about the appropriate federal role in K-12 education continue to pose significant hurdles for policymakers. The reauthorization process remains active, however, and NAESP expects significant additional action during the coming weeks, including consideration of a negotiated deal or bill that will be introduced by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) during the week of April 13.

House of Representatives Pulls Bill… For Now

Following two days of debate and consideration of over 30 amendments, House Leadership abruptly halted consideration of the Education and the Workforce Committee’s ESEA reauthorization bill (H.R. 5, Student Success Act) on February 27. House leaders pulled the measure from the House floor after determining that it did not have sufficient support within the Republican Caucus to pass. This development surprised many observers, given the body’s approval of a nearly identical measure in 2013. Conservatives withdrew their support from the bill after several outside groups expressed strong opposition to the committee’s approach, saying the bill did not sufficiently curb the federal role in K-12 education. House conservatives were also reportedly upset by the Rules Committee’s failure to allow consideration of an amendment that proposed to allow Title I funding to follow students to private schools (expanding on H.R. 5’s Title I funding portability to other public schools). Some conservative opposition to the bill might have been further fueled by unrelated tensions over the House Leadership’s handling of a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that proposed to withhold funding from President Obama’s recent immigration executive order.

Although the bill was pulled from consideration, a significant and key provision was adopted on the floor by voice vote. It defines a “school leader” as a principal inside the school building. This is a major victory for principals as NAESP continues to position the important role of principals and support for effective school leadership as renewal of the law is considered.

Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Kline (R-MN) recently indicated that the bill may return to the House floor when the House returns from Spring Break recess after Easter. However, it is not clear that Kline has recruited the votes he will need to secure the bill’s passage. If consideration of the bill resumes, the House must vote on 10 remaining amendments—assuming they are not withdrawn by their sponsors—before turning to the measure’s final passage. The White House issued a formal veto threat to H.R. 5, and the bill would not be approved by the Senate in its present form, but observers see passage of the measure as an important step in the overall process.


Senate Action

Despite challenges in the House reauthorization process, ESEA negotiations remain ongoing and very much alive in the Senate between HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA). Alexander and Murray are working to build bipartisan consensus on key policy issues before asking the full committee to consider the bill. Committee leaders initially hoped to present draft reauthorization legislation to the full committee for consideration in March, but “mark-up” (formal committee debate and votes) is now slated for the week of April 13. This temporary delay could impact Chairman Alexander’s request to Senate Leadership for two full weeks of Senate debate on the measure, because the floor schedule will soon become much more crowded when the Senate begins considering fiscal year 2016 appropriations measures. The bill must, however, first make its way through the HELP Committee. We expect the HELP Committee debate to last at least two days and involve consideration of a significant number of amendments from both Republican and Democratic members. If Senator Alexander and Senator Murray agree on a compromise base bill (including agreeing on Title I’s assessment and accountability provisions), the bill might emerge from committee with bi-partisan support, which would significantly improve the likelihood of full Senate approval and provide momentum for later bicameral negotiations.

NAESP continues to work closely with key education leaders to advance the priorities we have set on behalf of principals in the reauthorization.

Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Advances Locking in Sequester Caps

Congress is finishing up work this week on a marathon budget “vote-a-rama” related to the FY 2016 budget, which pushes forward the Republicans’ conservative spending blueprint. The House approved a GOP-leadership backed budget resolution that included an extra $20 billion in military spending and locks in the FY 2016 sequester caps, making it impossible to provide any increased spending in education and social domestic programs. The Senate is likely to follow, possibly adding more funding for defense and the Pentagon. The GOP-backed proposals cuts spending by $5.5 trillion while not raising taxes, attempts to balance the nation’s finances over the next decade, and repeals Obamacare. Under a deal that was crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Murray (D-WA), federal agencies would have been granted some relief from the Budget Control Act’s rigid spending caps for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, but this deal is off the table and caps are now back in full force through Fiscal Year 2021. Absent a new bipartisan agreement to lift the caps, the Department of Education’s overall budget may decline for the next fiscal year and beyond.

As issues important to principals such as developments on the reauthorization of ESEA and the FY 2016 occur, NAESP will continue to provide updates.

Kelly D. Pollitt is Associate Executive Director for Policy, Public Affairs, and Special Projects at NAESP.

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