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Time Is Already Running Out for ESEA

It's only early April, but time is already running very short if lawmakers are going to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this year.

Lawmakers are back in their districts this week. When Congress returns later this month, they'll have less than four months of work time before the August recess. Not much, besides budget bills, happens in Washington after July, especially in an election year. Four months may seem like lots and lots of time to folks outside of Washington, but Congress tends to run on a very different schedule. You know that saying, " it would take an act of Congress... " Yeah, that's around for a reason.

Of course, congressional aides can and do spend their summer vacations working out the details of a bill, but that's only if their bosses have reached the broad outlines of an agreement. And it seems to me that folks have been very busy working on health care and student loans and haven't had a chance to think through some of the thornier issues in ESEA renewal.

Folks have said privately that if the House education committee can't get a bill together by the end of March, there isn't going to be a reauthorization this year. And we haven't yet seen legislation. Remember, the 2002 version of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act, was on the floor of the Senate for roughly a month and a half, longer than any other piece of legislation in history, other than civil rights laws.

Congress could always surprise us and get it done this year, but it seems like a super longshot.

So does that mean you can totally ignore any steps Congress takes towards reauthorization this year because it isn't going to happen? Definitely not, pay careful attention, and take good notes. Even if lawmakers don't complete the process, they're likely to pick right back up where they left off, so everything they do this year matters a lot.

For instance, check out this draft bill that Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced back in 2007. It never made it to legislative prime-time, but it includes a lot of the same ideas (growth models, differentiated consequences) that are in the administration's ESEA draft, and even some proposals (like the Innovation fund) that became part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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