House and Senate Panels Talk ESEA Renewal
Senate Education Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) plans to move forward with Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization in early June, encouraging educators who had been wondering when and whether his committee would take action on the long-overdue update to the nation’s main federal education law. However, the effort is likely be a partisan affair without Republican support.
Beginning in January, Harkin regularly met with Senator Lamar Alexander (TN), the panel’s top Republican, to discuss specifics of the law. Unfortunately, their talks ground to a halt over the fundamental issue of student performance targets. Harkin would prefer to require states to set student achievement goals, as some states now do under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers. Alexander views such a requirement as too much federal intrusion.
Meanwhile, a recent hearing before the House education committee that was billed as a forum on federal education accountability turned into a discussion about the priorities for reauthorizing ESEA and revealed that the partisan divide that ruled House committee action last year continues to do so today. Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) promised that the committee would address the law’s rewrite “in the coming months,” possibly moving a bill to the House floor by the end of summer. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Representative George Miller (CA), also expressed some optimism, but questions from other committee members indicate that they will, once again, struggle with a range of opposing priorities, from equity to college and career readiness to parental choice.