ESEA has been up for reauthorization since 2007 when No Child Left Behind (NCLB), President Bush’s major education initiative first expired. Ten years into NCLB, advocates on both sides of the aisle are pushing for reform. It was thought that reauthorization would happen in 2011, particularly after Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, announced plans at the beginning of the year to hold a mark-up before the Spring recess. Four months later, a mark-up has not been scheduled. A major impetus for reform was the NCLB-mandated standard that by 2014, all public school students should be scoring at least a “proficient” level in math and reading or risk having federal funding rescinded (a target many school districts across the country have said is unreachable). Responding to these concerns on August 8, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the Obama Administration will move forward with a plan to offer states waivers from this 2014 requirement.
While a relief to school administrators, this announcement seemingly has removed some of the momentum for passing legislation this year, though the bipartisan agreement necessary to get the bill through the House and Senate was far from certain even before the Administration’s decision. Chairman Harkin has described negotiations with his Senate HELP counterpart Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) as “going well,” but added that they remain far apart on key issues like accountability, teachers, and comparability.
In the House, a pathway to bipartisan compromise seems even less likely. Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) introduced his bill, the “State and Local Funding Flexibility Act,” which would grant school districts the flexibility to redirect federal funding for education, including funds specifically earmarked for low-income and disadvantaged students, toward programs they deem most likely to improve student achievement. The proposal was strongly rebuked by the Ranking Member on the Committee, George Miller (D-CA), who voiced concern about what this flexibility would mean for poor and minority public school students.