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ESEA UPDATE: House Committee Passes NCLB Rewrite, Reconciliation with Senate Bill Could Prove Difficult

"For too long, politics have stood in the way of real education reform," said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN)

During the month of June, congressional committees in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Action began on June 12, when the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) passed the Strengthening America’s Schools Act (SASA). Action in the House followed on June 19 when the House Education and the Workforce Committee passed the Student Success Act. Each bill passed its respective committee on partisan votes.

Unlike its Senate counterpart, the House bill intentionally limits the role of the federal government, preferring to, in its words, “put more control in the hands of state and local leaders” while working to “reduce the federal footprint in the nation’s classrooms, support more effective teachers, and empower parents.”

“For too long, politics have stood in the way of real education reform,” said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN). “Continuing to allow short-term fixes and temporary waivers to take the place of a better law is inexcusable; Congress has a responsibility to move this process forward. The Student Success Act delivers the long-term solutions parents, teachers, and education leaders want and children deserve. The committee took an important step today by approving this responsible legislation, and I look forward to a lively debate on the House floor in the coming weeks.”

The Student Success Act would eliminate the requirement for schools and students to make “Adequate Yearly Progress,” instead deferring to states and school districts on how much-if any-progress schools and students would need to make. The bill would also eliminate federally mandated actions and interventions currently required of poorly performing schools. It would repeal the federal “highly qualified teacher” requirements and direct states and school districts to develop teacher evaluation systems-based on multiple measures and feedback from parents, teachers, school leaders, and other school staff-that measure an educator’s influence on student learning.

The House committee’s bill would continue NCLB’s requirement that states and school districts issue and distribute annual report cards, including disaggregated data on student achievement and high school graduation rates, but it would eliminate more than seventy existing elementary and secondary education programs. Several existing K-12 education programs would be consolidated into a new Local Academic Flexible Grant that would direct federal money to states and school districts without instructions on how it should be spent.

Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee had a different opinion on the bill, saying that it “walks away from the broad national consensus that schools must prepare students to graduate college and career ready.” They added that the bill fails to hold states, districts, and schools accountable for supporting and improving the achievement of all students.

“The Republican bill places politics before students,” said Representative George Miller (D-CA), top Democrat on the House committee. “The country needs a rewrite of No Child Left Behind. But Republicans have passed an extreme bill that will never be signed by the president, ensuring that this broken law will remain in place.”

In a statementBob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, said the House’s Student Success Act is “heavy on the federal government identifying problems but light on remedies.” Wise prefers the approach taken in the Senate bill, which he said “asserts an appropriate federal role for education policy-one that is supportive and flexible while preserving the protections for underserved students that have been the hallmark of federal education policy since ESEA was first signed into law in 1965.”

The future of both bills is unclear. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) has said that he would like to bring SASA up for a vote on the Senate floor, but he could face difficulty finding the Republican support necessary for the bill to pass the full Senate, especially because it did not receive any Republican support when voted out of the Senate HELP Committee. In the House, where a vote on the Student Success Act could occur before the end of the summer, House Republicans could pass an NCLB rewrite without Democratic support, but whatever the House passes will need to be reconciled with the Senate’s vastly different version.

“Action by both House and Senate education committees provides the first light at the end of the very long ESEA tunnel,” Wise said, “but can a bipartisan train straddle very different sets of partisan tracks and make it to the president’s desk?”

Video of the House committee’s consideration of the Student Success Act is available at

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