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Daily Dish: How the Race for House Speaker Impacts NCLB Rewrite Efforts

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October 09, 2015 05:19 pm

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This week brought another big change in the nation’s capital, following the resignations of House Speaker John Boehner and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy announced yesterday that he is dropping out of the race for House speaker. He was thought to be Boehner’s natural successor, making this a surprising turn of events. The news came shortly after the House Freedom Caucus, a collection of about forty very conservative Republicans, endorsed U.S. Representative Daniel Webster for speaker. The endorsement of Webster means that McCarthy would have fallen short of the 218 votes needed to win the spot. In the meantime, Boehner has said that he will remain on the job until the new speaker is elected.

In the education world, the question is yet again, what impact does this development have on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB)?

Education Week notes that with Boehner staying on the job, some people hope that he will clear some legislation with bipartisan support, including ESEA. According to an Alliance Federal Flash segment on the topic, ESEA became a long shot after Boehner announced his resignation, and Secretary Duncan’s resignation indicated that he did not think it was likely that ESEA would pass, otherwise he would have remained to get the job done. The segment describes how McCarthy removing himself means two key things for ESEA. First, that the chaos in the House Republican conference indicates the focus will be on the leadership race instead of legislation, and there are more important legislation issues, such as the annual budget and debt ceiling, that will take priority over ESEA.

Second, “even if Congress were to consider ESEA ‘must-pass’ legislation, by taking McCarthy out of the race, the Tea Party just flexed their muscles again, and won,” remarks Phillip Lovell, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy at the Alliance in the segment. “It will be a major challenge to negotiate a bill between the House and Senate that will be acceptable to Congressional Democrats, President Obama, and the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.”

Lovell comments on the slight possibility that Congressman John Kline, chairman of the House Education Committee, could be asked to serve as “interim speaker.” He notes that while this is unlikely, if it did happen, “you could see ESEA move from the back burner to the President’s desk with stunning speed.”

Watch the full Federal Flash segment below:

The Education Week article highlights some factors “on the plus side” of ESEA, including that the bills’ sponsors and the White House want to get the bill finished. Also, the article notes, if lawmakers are aiming to finish the bill as soon as possible, so that Boehner can see it through, there is good chance that he won’t be afraid to put a bill that requires Democratic support to pass on the floor of the House, especially since he has already announced his retirement.

Three Democratic Senators who voted against the Senate’s ESEA reauthorization bill because they felt it was too weak on accountability, Chris Murphy, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren, gathered together with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his replacement, Dr. John King for a discussion on the issue. According to another Education Week article, they say that the new law must call for states to help schools with perennially low-student achievement, low graduation rates, and big achievement gaps.

As the Federal Flash notes, it will be a bit of a bumpy ride over the next few months in regards to ESEA, but there are passionate advocates on the Hill pushing for passage and effective policy. Lovell says:  “Members of Congress, staff, and advocates like the Alliance are working hard behind the scenes to push for a final bill. And it is important for advocates to continue calling for ESEA reauthorization – it is the only way that ESEA has a chance of getting past the finish line.”

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