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ESEA on the Way?: What’s in the Senate HELP Committee Bill and What’s the Prognosis for Passing?

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On October 20, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed a bill to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), by a bipartisan vote of 15 to 7. The bill has drawn mixed reviews from education advocates as it would eliminate the 2014 requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading, but it would also lift specific accountability requirements on all but the lowest 5 percent of schools.

From the perspective of the nation’s high schools, the bill is a significant improvement over the No Child Left Behind Act, which largely ignored high schools. Under the HELP Committee bill passed last week, all high schools would be required to calculate graduation rates accurately and high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent would undergo improvement and be eligible for funding to support these efforts. The bill would also level the playing field for high schools to receive Title I funds—the federal government’s primary source of support for low-income students. Under current law, high schools only receive 10 percent of Title I funds even though they serve nearly one-quarter of low-income students. The bill would help to make sure that more high school students can benefit from these resources.

The next step in the legislation process is for the Senate HELP Committee to hold a hearing on the legislation and then for the bill to go to the Senate floor. But when is the bill likely to go to the Senate floor and how likely is the bill to pass when it gets there? And how does the Senate bill compare with the House’s plan to reauthorize ESEA?

Members of the Alliance’s federal advocacy team held a webinar on November 1 to answer these questions and more. They also reviewed significant changes to NCLB that were contained in the Senate bill and took questions from webinar participants.

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