Expected to pass a bill to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), on February 27, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives instead pulled the bill from consideration after statements from the Club for Growth and Heritage Foundation opposing the bill left conservative members wavering in their support.
At issue is the role that the federal government plays in education. Both the Club for Growth and Heritage Foundation want a complete retreat from a federal role in education and do not think the bill, known as the Student Success Act, goes far enough toward that goal. In fact, included among the Club for Growth’s policy recommendations for education is to “close down the U.S. Department of Education and end the federal government’s role in education.”
In the latest “Federal Flash,” the Alliance for Excellent Education’s weekly five-minute video update on federal education policy, Jessica Cardichon, the Alliance’s senior director of policy and advocacy, calls the organizations’ opposition to the Student Success Act “stunning, considering how little of a federal role in education is actually left by the Student Success Act.” Cardichon notes that the bill would remove accountability safe guards for underserved students, eliminate most federal education programs, and no longer require Title I funds for low-income students to go to low-income schools.”
For these reasons and more, the White House issued a veto threat for the bill, saying it “abdicates the historic federal role in elementary and secondary education of ensuring the educational progress of all of America’s students, including students from low-income families, students with disabilities, English learners, and students of color.”
The path forward for the Student Success Act is unclear, with House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) saying in a February 27 statement that he expects to have an opportunity to finish the bill “soon.” In the same statement—and perhaps in response to the far right’s opposition to the bill—both Kline and Todd Rokita (R-IN), chairman of the Subcommittee of Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, reiterated the “conservative reforms” in the legislation.
The Student Success Act was not listed on the weekly House schedule for consideration during the week of March 2.
In the U.S. Senate, bipartisan negotiations continue between Republican and Democratic staff on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). At focus are big issues such as assessments, the level of accountability for schools and districts, and funding for individual programs. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has said that he wants the Senate to vote on a bill by April.
The bipartisan negotiations in the Senate are a key component of the process because any bill to rewrite NCLB will need support from at least six Democrats to advance in the Senate—assuming that all fifty-four Republicans are united in their support for the bill. But, as was seen in the House, that could be a big assumption.