Advocacy Update: ESEA to Move to Conference Committee
By Kelly D. Pollitt
July 2015, Volume 38, Issue 11
July 2015 has turned out to be one of the busiest (and most historic) months on record in the United States Congress in terms of federal education policy. Following years of delay, both the House and the Senate passed bills this month to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The law, also known as No Child Left Behind, has been expired for eight years and continues to hamper educators with heavy regulation that perpetuates a “test and punish” approach to federal accountability. While momentum is strong to renew the law and NAESP is encouraged by the progress to date, the process still has a long way to go before it can be considered a legislative accomplishment in the 114th Congress.
The bills passed by Congress must now endure a Conference Committee: Congressional-speak for a committee with members from both the House and the Senate who must negotiate and reconcile different provisions of the bills in order to send a final version to President Obama to either veto or sign into law. The Conference Committee will have to tackle big issues such as Title I portability, which is included in the House bill and not the Senate bill, and federal accountability requirements, as well as produce an agreement on funding levels for Title I and other programs under ESEA. In addition, Republicans leaders in the House have made it no secret that they are unhappy with the number of programs the Senate process added back into ESEA that were struck in order to garner enough votes for the ESEA bill to pass in the House. (See NAESP’s latest advocacy on this issue here.)
During a time of fiscal restraint and budget showdowns, which are about to escalate as the annual appropriations process is underway, we will wait to see if a Conference Committee can move forward on the tough negotiation process. And at the end of the day, any final negotiated bill must be attractive enough for President Obama’s signature to turn the bill into an actual law. So far, it is uncertain whether Congress can appease the Obama administration on either version of the law; Obama has issued a veto threat on the House bill, and provided a very tepid response to the Senate version due to its accountability provisions.
Here is a brief recap of where the House and Senate ended up on their respective ESEA reauthorization bills, and the approach the legislation would take to supporting principals in successfully leading schools.
Senate vs House Legislation
Following nearly two weeks of debate and consideration of dozens of amendments (see full amendment list and outcomes here) the Senate approved S. 1177, the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” by a final bipartisan vote of 81-17. This bill was developed and carefully negotiated by the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and the Ranking Member, Patty Murray (D-WA). By and large, the Every Child Achieves Act represents a compromised bipartisan renewal of the law—it provides support for educators, keeps many important programs intact that help schools improve student outcomes, and includes provisions that provide states and local districts with greater authority over the implementation of federal education programs. While the bill is not ideal, it does provide a great deal of support for the nation’s principals over current law, including programs that will improve recruitment, preparation, and on-going support for the role of school leaders. To read more about the specific provisions NAESP was able to secure as part of the 2015 advocacy agenda, please see “Principal Wins in ECA”. Read about the specific provisions in the bill directed to building the capacity of principals here.
Just before Senate action on ESEA, the House also passed its version of a bill to renew the law, H.R. 5, the “Student Success Act,” by a vote of 218-213 (a handful of Republicans joined Democrats to vote against the bill). House Republican leaders stopped consideration of H.R. 5 in early February after conservatives expressed opposition to the bill for not going far enough on reducing the federal “footprint” in education. After months of delay, and likely pressure from Senate action on the bill, the House eked out final passage after consideration of 14 amendments. The House version of ESEA that passed was a slightly updated version that had passed during the last session of Congress, which NAESP opposed due to the bill’s overall lack of direct support for principals and building educator capacity, as well as the inclusion of portability, a voucher-like proposal for Title I funds (see recap of the association’s priorities here).
As the process to bring about a full renewal of ESEA continues, NAESP will provide additional updates. Please contact Kelly D. Pollitt at email@example.com for any questions about the legislation and priorities.
Kelly D. Pollitt is NAESP’s Chief Strategist, Policy and Alliances.
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