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Key Senate Panel Schedules Markup on ESEA Renewal Bill

After months of negotiations, it's finally happening: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has set a date to take up a bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The markup is scheduled for Oct. 18 at 2:30 p.m. No details yet on the actual legislation, but it's the product of 10 months of negotiations between U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the committee chairman, and Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming, the top Republican.

The measure will be a comprehensive bill. Over in the House, U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the education chairman, has broken the reauthorization up into smaller, bite-sized pieces, some of which have already passed out of committee. Kline and Co. are expected to deal with the big issues, accountability and teacher quality, this fall.

In a statement today, Sen. Harkin said: "The legislation that I will bring before the HELP Committee reflects two years of bipartisan hearings, discussions, and negotiations and almost a decade of learning from teachers and parents about the strengths and weaknesses of the No Child Left Behind Act. Our bill will take important steps to advance the state, local and federal partnership that is needed to improve educational equity and ensure all students graduate from high school prepared for success in college and careers."

Meanwhile, given the lack of congressional action so far, the Obama administration has announced its plan to grant waivers to states to give them more flexibility under NCLB, so long as states agree to adopt certain education reform principles.

Why this matters: There's a chance that, now that there's going to be a Senate bill with some bipartisan support, we might actually, maybe, possibly, see some action on ESEA renewal at some point before the presidential election. Of course, congressional action matters less now that the Obama administration has released its waiver plan. But, at the very least, the bill will give folks an indication of where Harkin and Enzi stand on ESEA. And it'll be interesting to see how close their plan is to the administation's waiver proposal, and to the vision for accountability outlined by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and other Senate GOP lawmakers.

Why it maybe doesn't matter: Even if this legislation has the support of both Harkin and Enzi, and even if it's not that different from the GOP Senate bills, or the administration's blueprint, it's still going to face a tough road in a Congress where doing anything with bipartisan support has been a tall order. Lawmakers will fight about just about anything these days. Plus, the waiver plan has really taken the wind out of reauthorization's sails in many ways.

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