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Legislative News: House ESEA Bill 2012
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House ESEA Bill Clears Committee

Friday, March 02, 2012

House ESEA Bill Clears Committee
Myrna Mandlawitz, Esq.
Director, Government Relations
School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA)

The road to reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind) has been long and winding. The reauthorization, scheduled statutorily to happen in 2007, remains unsettled.

Another step on the path to completing the process occurred yesterday with the passage of two bills in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The bills, drafted by Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), passed on a party-line vote of 23-16, with all Republicans voting for and all Democrats voting against the bills. Democrats offered two amendments, both of which failed, that would have substituted their bills for the Republican versions.

Serious concerns were expressed by other disability and other education organizations and through the Democratic substitute amendments over provisions that would relax accountability for achievement of all students. In addition, the cap of 1 percent is lifted on counting scores on alternate achievement assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities, essentially allowing school districts to move an unlimited number of students with disabilities into the "alternate" category.

In addition, there are some serious funding changes. Elimination of maintenance of effort provisions is extremely troublesome, both for ESEA and for the possible precedent this might set when IDEA is considered for reauthorization. Another major concern is the change in the authorization levels for ESEA, in other words the "full funding" level. The bills cap federal education funding at FY 2011 (School year 2011-12) levels with only increases for inflation after 2014.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) passed a bipartisan ESEA bill in 2011. Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) has stated he will not push to have a floor vote on the bill until the House produces a bipartisan bill.

Bill Specifics:

Student Success Act (H.R. 3939)

The main thrust of this bill is "returning responsibility for student achievement to states, school districts, and parents, while maintaining high expectations." This goal would be achieved by a significant reduction in the federal role in education through some of the following provisions:

o Requiring states to establish academic standards and assessments in at least reading and math. States would not be required to administer assessments in science, but could develop assessments in science and other subject areas at their discretion.
o The bill maintains disaggregation of student data by subgroups, including students with disabilities, and a 95 percent participation rate for all students and each subgroup.
o Adequate yearly progress (AYP) is eliminated and replaced by state-determined accountability systems, including a system of school improvement interventions.
o Current mandated interventions are eliminated, including the School Improvement Grants program for school turnaround.
o States would set aside 3 percent of Title I funds to provide competitive grants to school districts to offer tutoring or public school choice options.
o "Highly qualified teacher" requirements would be repealed.
o States and school districts are allowed flexible use of ESEA funds, moving funds from population-specific programs to any other ESEA program. The only restriction is that school districts could not use funds for Title I schools beyond those schools.
o Maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements are removed, giving discretion to states and school districts to decide funding levels for elementary and secondary education. "Supplement, not supplant" provisions are maintained, continuing the requirement that federal funds are used on top of state and local resources.
o The Secretary of Education's authority is limited by prohibiting ESEA waivers to be conditioned on certain requirements, significantly reducing regulations, and prohibiting federal review of state standards.

Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act (H.R. 3990)

This bill addresses teacher effectiveness, deals with the smaller ESEA grant programs, and provides flexibility in the use of federal funds by states and school districts. Following are some of the specific provisions:

o The bill establishes five broad parameters for teacher evaluation systems, including (a) making student achievement data a significant part of the evaluation; (b) using multiple measures in teacher evaluation; (c) having more than two rating categories for teacher performance; (d) making personnel decisions based on evaluations, as determined by the school district; and, (e) seeking input from parents, teachers, school leaders, and other staff in developing the system.
o Use of funds for class size reduction is capped at 10 percent.
o Remaining teacher quality programs under current law are consolidated into the "Teacher and School Leader Flexible Grant," grants to states and school districts "to increase student achievement through evidence-based innovative initiatives."
o A new "Local Academic Flexible Grant" is established for states and school districts to fund "initiatives based on their own unique priorities." States and districts will have maximum flexibility under state law in deciding how to spend these funds. States must reserve 10 percent of funds for programs outside traditional public schools, including private school vouchers.
o Seventy current education programs are eliminated.

Next Steps:

House and Senate reauthorization bills now completed in the education committees must be passed on the floor of the House and the Senate. After that, the two bills would be reconciled in a conference committee before a final bill emerges. Currently, the possibility of finishing the reauthorization process this year seems slim. That said, we are proceeding to work on every phase of this process to ensure the best law possible is enacted.

Here are some resources for more information and specific bill language:

¨ Majority Views: http://edworkforce.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=281772
¨ Minority Views: http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/issue/elementary-and-secondary-education-act
¨ Official information on any bills in Congress, links to congressional committees, etc.: http://THOMAS.loc.gov.

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