ESEA Reauthorization Moving Forward

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee today voted unanimously (22-0) to pass the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Committee mark-up of the Senate’s legislation to modernize and reauthorize ESEA spanned three days allowing Committee members to consider more than 80 amendments within a very organized, collegial atmosphere on most issues. Some Senators discussed their amendments, but withdrew them, pledging to bring them up again when the bill goes to the floor.

The unanimous vote evidences a strong bipartisan effort during mark-up and portends positive signs going forward. In this regard, during his closing remarks Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) noted that “This has been a piece of legislation that has been 7 years in the making… this time it is different and I would like to thank Senator Murray for her help getting us to this conclusion.” He also highlighted the  following information about the three-day mark-up:  57 amendments were considered, 29 adopted, 8 defeated, 20 discussed and withdrawn. Of the amendments adopted: 5 were Republican amendments, 24 were Democratic amendments.   

Echoing Alexander’s sentiment, Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) stated,  “The best chance we have is to pass this bill with a bipartisan approach…”

A quick summary of amendments of interest to local school board members include: 
1.    The only private school voucher amendment offered was by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) which he withdrew in anticipation of resubmitting on the Senate floor.
2.    Many of the approved amendments would have implications for school districts.  Senator Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) amendment to provide grants to states to improve the quality and reliability of their assessments was adopted. The amendment was also sponsored by Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and was incorporated in the House ESEA bill, the Student Success Act, H.R. 5.
3.    Another approved amendment from Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO)  would require states to assess their data collection systems to reduce burdens on school districts.

While much of the mark-up process was relatively calm, Senators engaged in a debate over a pair of dueling amendments addressing bullying. The amendments were offered by Senator Alexander and Senator Robert Casey (D-PA). Senator Alexander emphasized that his amendment would allow school districts to use federal funds to implement anti-bullying programs but would not tell them what to do. Senator Casey’s amendment would require states to implement anti-bullying policies. Much of the discussion focused on how best to strike a balance between putting more teeth into the law and not encroaching on local decision making.  Senator Al Franken (D-MN) also offered an amendment “to end discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of students in public schools.”  All three amendments were withdrawn. The Senators agreed to work together to find a legislative compromise and bring the issue back for floor debate later.

NSBA releaased this press release regarding the Senate Committee passage of Every Child Achieves Act; and outlined its priorities in this letter, including local governance, maintenance of effort (MOE) provisions, stronger federal investments in Title I, as well as the exclusion of Title I portability provisions. 

Flowing from the momentum of this week’s bipartisan markup, Senators will turn their attention toward moving their bill to the Senate floor for an up or down vote, which could come as early as mid-May. The House version of legislation to modernize ESEA, the Student Success Act, H.R. 5,  has already passed the Committee and has been debated on the House floor. However, no votes have been taken nor have votes been scheduled on H.R. 5.