ESEA reauthorization bill advances out of House-Senate conference committee

By MSBA and NSBA

The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is one step closer to becoming a reality.

On Thursday, November 19, a U.S. House and Senate joint conference committee fairly quickly negotiated language to reauthorize ESEA. 

A handful of amendments were discussed at yesterday’s markup prior to passing the bill. Seven easily passed with bipartisan support, one was withdrawn by its author, and only two were voted down. The amendments that passed would authorize a study to examine changes to formula funding through Title I, review early childhood education programs, establish limits on aggregate time spent on assessments, provide funding for educating teachers on the appropriate use of student data, provide for dual or concurrent enrollment for English language learners, integrate arts in STEM education, and offer funding flexibility to carry out dropout prevention and re-entry programs.

The bipartisan conference committee overwhelmingly passed (39-1) the conference report (or the negotiated bill). 

Continue to follow MSBA Capitol Connections, we will alert you as the bill makes it way to the House and Senate floors for a full vote.

The full report/bill language is expected to become public on November 30. The House could vote on the bill December 2–3 and the Senate could vote as early as December 7.

View the ESEA Framework as approved by the conference committee which includes NSBA commentary.  The most substantive change from the House-and Senate-passed ESEA bills is enhanced accountability that has bipartisan support.

Several amendments were added to the bill with bipartisan support: 

Title I Funding:  The House-Senate ESEA Conference Committee adopted an amendment by voice vote that was offered by Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) that would authorize the Institute of Education Sciences to study the Title I funding formula and report back to Congress.  This amendment reflects “formula fairness” efforts by Rep. Thompson as well as Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), to reform the Title I funding mechanisms to reflect greater parity (or equitable distribution of funds among eligible students in urban, rural and suburban areas).
“When the money does not follow the intended population, that’s broken,” Sen. Burr stated.  “Title I money no longer follows poor kids where they live.  When a program isn’t accomplishing what it was intended for, it is broken.”
Early Childhood Education Programs:  Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) offered an amendment that was approved by a voice vote to study federal investments in early childhood education that would yield useful information on how to make early education more efficient and effective.  In his remarks about the amendment, Sen. Enzi stated that he and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) worked several years ago to consolidate and improve federal support for early childhood programs, and that more efforts are needed to improve efficiency in this area.

Integrated Curricula:  Rep. Susan Bonamici (D-OR) introduced an amendment that would expand the list of allowable activities in Title IV Academic Enrichment Grants (formerly 21st Century Schools) to improve integration of STEM subjects and the arts, such as music and math, to support efforts for a “well-rounded education.”  Conferees approved the amendment by a voice vote.

Testing/Assessments:  Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) offered an amendment that was approved by a voice vote to streamline testing, “where federal requirements collide with district and state assessments.” The amendment clarifies that states and districts may set a targeted limit on testing and eliminate unnecessary and duplicative assessments.  The measure would limit the overall amount of time students spend taking assessments and allow states and districts the flexibility to address what Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) referred to as “the problem of over-testing.”

Education Technology/Student Data Privacy:  Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) raised an amendment regarding the use of technology to improve education outcomes while protecting student data.  The amendment, which was approved by a voice vote, would amend Title IIA under ESEA on “preparing, training and recruiting high quality teachers and principals” to allow the use of professional development funds for training on the appropriate use of data.

Dropout Prevention:  Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) offered an amendment that was approved by a voice vote to increase dropout prevention efforts and offer greater support for student re-entry programs.  The amendment would allow districts to use existing funds under the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program to address dropout prevention.
Dual and Concurrent Enrollment Programs: Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) offered a measure to amend Title III on English Language Acquisition to facilitate opportunities for dual/concurrent enrollment as an allowable use of funds.  The measure would enhance the offering of community college courses to English Language Learners, allowing students to graduate in five years with a high school diploma and advanced credentials.  Rep. Polis stated that his amendment would provide more opportunities for such programs, giving students a “head start” on college completion.  Conferees approved the amendment by a voice vote.
Additional amendments were offered, but not approved: 

Authorized Funding Levels:  Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) raised an amendment regarding the authorized funding levels in the proposed conference committee agreement, stating that they were “a little bit high.”  He cited additional reasons, including priorities for homeland security and international security (with the recent attack in France), as other priority areas within the federal budget.  Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) objected to the measure, stating that “our student population is growing and needs are growing.”  Rep. Scott added that, “I think it is inappropriate, at this point, to try to restrict the possible appropriation … and limit that debate.”  House conferees approved the amendment by a vote of 9 to 8.  Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated his opposition to the amendment, noting that the bill would authorize funding commensurate with the levels approved in the recent Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 and in the Budget Control Act of 2011.  Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) opposed the amendment as well, stating that, “Adopting this amendment would be a major step backward [from the Bipartisan Budget Act].”  Senate conferees did not agree to this amendment; and, it was not approved.

Teacher/Principal Evaluations:  Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) offered an amendment that would direct the U.S. Department of Education to establish a clearinghouse of best practices for teacher and principal evaluations to help school districts learn about and exchange successful models of teacher and principal evaluation systems.  Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) and other House conferees objected to the amendment, asserting that teacher and principal evaluations should be managed at the discretion of states and school districts.  The amendment was not approved.

The following amendment was not voted on, but was discussed: 

Higher Education/Extension of Perkins Loan Program:  Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced an amendment – but did not request a vote on this amendment – to extend the Perkins Loan program authorization for one-year, as it has recently expired.  In her remarks, she stated that the amendment is necessary and imminent to helping ensure that students can continue their education beyond high school.  “It’s critical that we not leave students and institutions in the lurch [while negotiating a reauthorization for the Higher Education Act],” Sen. Baldwin stated.

About mnmsba

The Minnesota School Boards Association, a leading advocate for public education, supports, promotes and strengthens the work of public school boards.
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