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LET’S MAKE A DEAL: House and Senate Reach Compromise on NCLB Rewrite, Could Send Bill to President Before End of Year

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“There are several things in the compromise that make the legislation more appealing than the House and Senate’s earlier proposals."

On November 13, key education leaders in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives announced “a path forward” in their negotiations to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In a joint statement, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), along with Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), expressed optimism that a House-Senate conference committee could “reach agreement on a final bill that Congress will approve and the president will sign.”

Less than one week later, on November 19, their optimism was rewarded as bipartisan members of a House-Senate conference committee voted 38 to 1 to approve a compromise between the House-passed Student Success Act and the Senate-passed Every Child Achieves Act.

“No Child Left Behind has been failing students, parents, teachers, and state and local education leaders for far too long, and today we took an important step in replacing this flawed law,” said Kline, who chaired the conference committee. “But there is still work to be done. We now have to turn this framework into a final bill for our House and Senate colleagues to review. I am confident that once they do, they will see it as an opportunity to replace a failed approach to education with a new approach that will reduce the federal role, restore local control, and empower parents.”

The process to rewrite NCLB, which has stalled on multiple occasions over the last several years, is now expected to move forward at a rapid pace. With the House expected to vote on the compromise on December 2 or 3, and the Senate expected to vote on it during the week of December 7, it is possible that the bill could be on the president’s desk for approval before the end of the year.

In the November 20 episode of “Federal Flash,” the Alliance for Excellent Education’s five-minute video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC, Phillip Lovell, the Alliance’s vice president of policy and advocacy, acknowledged that a bill written by the Obama administration would “look very different” than the House-Senate compromise, but said Obama would likely sign the compromise should it reach his desk.

“There are several things in the compromise that make the legislation more appealing than the House and Senate’s earlier proposals,” Lovell said. “For example, the conference agreement includes accountability and support for the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools—a priority for the administration ever since they took office—support for high schools that fail to graduate one-third or more of their students, as well as schools with consistently low-performing groups of students who have been traditionally underserved.”

Lovell noted that the compromise also contains policies favored by Republicans, such as the elimination of a number of federal education programs, as well as new limitations on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) authority—a major priority for Republicans, who feel that ED “overstepped its authority in requiring various policies in exchange for its waivers from NCLB,” Lovell said.

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