Tomorrow the House Education and the Workforce Committee will consider two bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., introduced revised versions of the legislation today. So far, the bills have picked up two official endorsements, one from the American Association of School Administrators, and one from the National School Boards Association.
But the Tri-Caucus, a powerful group of House lawmakers representing districts with lots of black, Hispanic, and Asian students, are very concerned about the legislation's u-turn away from subgroup accountability. They've put out a letter officially opposing the bill.
And many civil rights and business groups—and teachers' unions—are not fans of the legislation.
So far, the bills only have support from Republicans. Expect lots of partisan debate tomorrow, and a partisan vote in the end.
So what's different in the new legislation?
Maybe the biggest change is that states would now be required to set-aside 3 percent of their Title I funding for disadvantaged kids, for a school choice and tutoring program. The original version of the bill totally scrapped the 20 percent set-aside for school choice and tutoring—something districts have been clamoring for pretty much forever.
This is not your father's Supplemental Education Services program, one advocate told me. It will look really different from what's in place under the No Child Left Behind Act. States will get to decide how to administer the funds, and districts can apply for the money if they want to. Districts would also be able to run their own tutoring programs (like Secretary Duncan did when he was superintendent in Chicago.)
The revised legislation also seeks to assuage advocates' fears that the bills could open the door to states and districts using federal funds for private school vouchers. There's also new langauge around teacher privacy when it comes to new evaluation systems. And the measure would allow states to set-aside 3 percent of teacher training funds to expand teacher or school leader preparation academies. Summary of changes here.
So what are the interesting amendments?
There's going to be one from Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., to reinstate the requirement that states test students in science in certain grade spans. The science tests don't count for AYP unless states want them to. That amendment could spark some real debate. Kline took science out to lessen the testing burden on schools.
But Hanna is worried that will mean less focus on science, which he sees as key to American competitiveness.
"Eliminating science testing sends an untimely message on national priorities at the very moment when we most need to educate our children to compete in these fields," Rep. Hanna said in a statement. "If we are to produce students who are able to succeed in an increasingly global society, we cannot ignore the educational and economic benefits of science education."
And there will also be an amendment from Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., to rework the Title I funding formula so that rural schools with high levels of poverty get a bigger piece of the pie. Big districts, like Montgomery County, Md., are winners under the current formula, at the expense of smaller districts in places like Western Pennsylvania, where Thompson is from. There's bipartisan support for the language. More here.
The Rural School and Community Trust has been pushing this change for years. The big problem is that funding formula fights can create all sorts of geographical divisions and really gum up the works on a bill like this.