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ESEA/NCLB Update #124

ESEA reauthorization clears Senate education committee

The influential Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) last week approved a major bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by a vote of 15-7. The bill was originally introduced by Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), who emphasized that the bill language reflected bipartisan negotiation with Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY). The Committee voted on several amendments prior to the bill’s approval, and some were withdrawn by Senators who indicated that they might reintroduce them on the Senate floor.

Calling the Committee vote a victory for both children and bipartisanship, Harkin said, “This bill will ensure that students graduate from school ready for college and careers and focus federal resources where they will be most effective. It will replace punitive sanctions and labels with supports for teaching and learning, increase flexibility for innovation on the local level, and distribute resources equitably to ensure a top-notch education for every American student.” In a statement during the markup, Enzi noted that the bill was not perfect but stressed the importance of finding middle ground. “This bill rejects the notion that states and schools cannot be trusted to ensure that every child receives the education they need and that Washington has to continually interfere so that their students can succeed,” Enzi said.

Key features of the bill as passed by the Committee include:

  • Elimination of the current “AYP” system that included unrealistic 100% proficiency targets and sanctioned, rather than helped, struggling schools
  • A focus on state designed accountability systems with high quality assessments and a goal of continuous improvement
  • An emphasis on college and career ready standards
  • Continued yearly testing in math and reading and grade span testing in science
  • Continued disaggregated reporting of student achievement by subgroups and continued transparency on results
  • Interventions for the 5 percent lowest-achieving schools as well as all high schools with less than a 60 percent graduation rate, largely using specific intervention models
  • A federally required focus on the 5 percent of schools with the greatest achievement gaps, with schools losing potential federal funding opportunities if they do not close the gaps after three years
  • Expansion of charter schools, raising accountability and transparency concerns
  • Codification of Race to the Top and the Teacher Incentive Fund

NEA, its affiliates, and members shared their views on the bill with Senators during the markup, including suggested amendments, and will continue to do so as the bill moves forward. To stay up to date on the bill and NEA’s perspectives, visit NEA’s Legislative Action Center. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for November 8. 

K-12 funding: Senate stalls on education jobs bill, Super Committee outcome critical

Increases in public school funding remain elusive, despite the desperate need to counteract state education funding shortfalls and support struggling schools. In spite of the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate last week failed to pass the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act. “The Senate’s failure to pass the education jobs bill is ill-timed and short-sighted,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel in a press statement. “By not passing the legislation, the Senate is sending our children a message that they do not matter and that their education is not a priority for our nation.”

To make matters worse, education funding would be greatly harmed if the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (“Super Committee”) fails to reach a reasonable solution and automatic cuts take place. “The Super Committee must take a balanced approach that aims, above all, to put Americans back to work, while protecting the interests of Main Street and our most vulnerable populations, and making sure that those most able to do so pay their fair share,” said NEA in a letter to Congress on a possible budget deal. If a deal is not reached, an automatic “sequestration trigger” could result in estimated cuts of $1.1 billion to Title I, $896 million to IDEA, and $590 million to Head Start.

STEM is a magnet for i3 applications

Applicants bidding for $150 million in Investing in Innovation (i3) grants are focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) more than any other absolute priority. The 587 applicants in this year’s competition were only allowed to designate one absolute priority. 162 applicants cited STEM as an absolute priority; 112 cited turning around failing schools; 107 cited teachers and principals; 102 cited standards and assessments; 99 cited rural LEAs; and five were unclear, according to a Department of Education (ED) summary. ED plans to release its rankings by late fall 2011.

Department of Education provides more waiver guidance

With 40 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico signaling their intent to apply for NCLB waivers, ED is providing additional information for states on the waiver process. In addition to ED's main flexibility page, ED created a Support for States page containing PowerPoints and transcripts from technical assistance forums and webinars. The latest posting is a PowerPoint on Integrating Annual Measurable Objectives into ESEA Flexibility. ED also continues to take questions at ESEAflexibility@ed.gov.

Competition heats up for Early Learning Challenge funds

Thirty-five states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have submitted entries in the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant competition. At stake is $500 million, with possible awards in the range of $50 - $100 million each. “The strong response from states shows there is a shared commitment to raising the bar on quality across early learning programs, including those serving low income children who too often start kindergarten already behind their classmates," said Secretary for Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in a press statement on the applications. Winners and losers will be announced in mid-December.

Take Action: Weigh in on the reauthorization

The Senate HELP committee has approved an ESEA reauthorization bill, and the House is moving ESEA-related legislation in smaller pieces. Tell Congress that a final bill must move from a focus on testing to a focus on a well-rounded education!

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E-mail Legislators about ESEA

Tell your Senators to get ESEA reauthorization right


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