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Inside the Beltway ESEA Renewal Tour, Round 2

English-language learners, students in special education, and homeless students took center stage in the U.S. Department of Education's second "stakeholders" forum, held here in Washington today. These events are intended to help lay the groundwork for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

This one attracted a much smaller and more subdued crowd than the first stakeholders' forum here, which featured a big speech on reauthorization from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Still, there was some interesting discussion on how the new, yet-to-be-named version of the law might do a better job measuring the achievement of these special populations than does its current version, the No Child Left Behind Act.

The event kicked off with a panel of witnesses, including Kris Gutierrez, a professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who studies English-language learners. She suggested that schools track what happens to ELLs after they leave the classroom. And she said those students need to be assessed for continued progress.

Patricia Popp, a representative from the Virginia Education Program for Homeless Children and Youth, noted that support staff for homeless kids often are the first folks laid off during an economic downturn. She suggested that Congress make sure it provides adequate funding for homeless kids through the federal McKinney-Vento program, which finances support services for that population.

During the question period, Jane West, a lobbyist at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in Washington, noted that both the ESEA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are up for reauthorization at the same time. She suggested that, rather than aligning the two laws, Congress consider actually merging them. One of the panelists, Dr. Judith Moening, who directs special education for the North East Independent School District outside San Antonio, Texas, seconded that motion.

And Deborah Ziegler, a lobbyist for the Council for Exceptional Children, which advocates for students in special education, said she hoped that special education teachers would be eligible for alternative pay, something the administration has been pushing hard through the stimulus program's Race to the Top Fund and other initiatives and is expected to champion in reauthorization.

On the big question ... still no on-the-record clues about the timing of ESEA reauthorization.

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