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Kline ESEA Bills Would Squelch the Federal Role in K-12

The federal role in K-12 education would be almost entirely eviscerated under a pair of bills introduced today by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The bills would get rid of the adequate yearly progress provision, and allow states to craft their own accountability systems. Schools would be able to come up with their own improvement strategies. They wouldn't have to offer free tutoring or school choice. But schools would still test students in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Testing in science would become voluntary, though.

"Decisions about education should by and large be made at the state and local level," said Kline at the American Enterprise Institute, a free-market think thank in Washington. "All decisions should be measured against the yardstick of whether they are helping students learn and achieve. Federal spending in education has increased every single year and we haven't seen any results."

The official versions of the bills aren't radically different from the original draft put forth last month, advocates say. One bill deals with accountability, the other with teacher quality and other issues.

The measures only have the support of Republicans, not Democrats. That's a big departure for a bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which has traditionally been bipartisan. The top Democrat on the education committee, Rep. George Mlller, D-Calif., has already said he doesn't like the legislation—it's an open question whether they can pick up support from other Democrats later on in the process.

Kline is dropping his bills on the same day that the White House is rolling out which states got waivers from parts of the current version of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act, in exchange for embracing certain reform priorities. So that announcement will probably shift the spotlight off his bills. (Politics K-12 wonders how that scheduling happened.)

This is the second major ESEA reauthorization bill in the past several months. The Senate education committee approved its own version last fall, with the support of just three committee Republicans.

What are the biggest differences between these pieces of legislation and a bill that was approved by the Senate education committee last fall? Well, first off, the Senate legislation continues some role for the federal government in school improvement. But the House bills totally scrap the controversial School Improvement Grant program, or SIG.

And the House bills would require states and districts to evaluate teachers, using student performance as a signficant factor. That language isn't in the Senate bill. Ironically, it was Republicans who argued against it. They thought calling for evaluations wasn't the right role for the federal government.

The Senate bill also makes a big deal of requiring states to set college-and-career ready standards, which isn't in Kline's measure. And it would call for new investments in literacy, mathematics, and other curriculum areas—the House bills don't view that as the right role for the federal government.

The House bills would scrap an important spending provision in the Title I program, called maintenance of effort, which requires local districts to keep their own spending up at a certain level in order to tap the federal funds. Members of the National Governors Association's education committee like that idea. But lots of advocates for districts, principals, and civll rights groups worry it could mean less money for the poor kids served by Title I.

What have people been saying about these bills? Well, civil rights groups and business leaders are not fans. They say they would roll back civil rights protections in current law, particularly for special populations of students, such as English-language learners, and students in special education.The National Education Association is also not so happy.

But there are other groups representing practioners, including the American Association of School Administrators and the Council of Chief State School Officers, who say they see the bills as a good starting point, but have stopped short of endorsing them.

So what are the next steps? Advocates expect the committee to consider the bills in the next several weeks. Whether House leaders will want to advance it after that is anyone's guess.

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