And now there are three bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a.k.a. No Child Left Behind. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, dropped his ESEA renewal measure today, just days after the Senate Democrats, and hours after the Senate Republicans.
If you were around back in 2012 and took a look at the bill that was approved on a totally party-line vote by Kline's committee, you've seen this bill, pretty much. There are a couple of minor tweaks, including a requirement that states develop science standards, as they must under current law. And states would be allowed to use Title II teacher-quality money for principal evaluations.
It looks like the bill is likely to move to the floor this time around. Kline told reporters to expect floor action before the August recess, possibly even by the end of this month. And he said the committee is planning to consider the bill June 19.
So far, no Democrats have signed onto the House bill—and no Republicans support the measure slated for consideration by the Senate education committee. Kline made it clear he's going ahead despite these hurdles.
"I think it's very important to keep this process moving forward," he said. And he noted that the administration was very involved on ESEA at the beginning of President's Obama's term—he thinks they should begin leading on the issue again.
He said he's "already hearing some pushback even from states who have waivers. ... I think that pressure, if you will, from Americans coast to coast, will help break this thing loose."
Here's the interesting thing about the Kline bill: It goes for maximum state and local flexibility when it comes to funding, accountability, and school improvement, but when it comes to teacher evaluations, it is arguably the strongest—and the closest to the Obama administration. Like the ESEA waivers, the bill would call for districts to develop teacher evaluations based on student outcomes and they would have to be used in personnel decisions as determined by the district, such as promotions and hiring. That's different from Senate Democrats' approach—and a key contrast with Senate Republicans.
So what are the other big policy points? Here's a quick rundown:
•On accountability, the bill is pretty close to Senate Republican's vision. States would still have to test students in grades 3-8 and once in high school in reading and math, but they would be totally in the driver's seat when it comes to school improvement and goals for student achievement. That will make district advocates happy, but not so much civil rights and business groups. Or the Obama administration.
•The bill would merge programs aimed at migrant students, English Language Learners, neglected and delinquent children, rural students, and Indian children, into the biggest K-12 program, the Title I program for disadvantaged children. Districts could use the funds for any activity authorized under those programs. No money could be transferred out of Title I schools, but extra funds could go to other low-income schools.
•The bill gets rid of maintenance of effort, which requires states to keep up their own spending at a certain level to tap federal funds. This was a big deal in the last Congress. And funding flexibility was a huge theme of a roundtable Kline held with superintendents and other local leaders back in his home district. That's similar to a Senate Republican bill also introduced today.
•The bill would prohibit the U.S. Secretary of Education from imposing any conditions on states when it comes to standards and assessments, or from asking for any changes to state standards. (That appears to take direct aim at the requirement under waivers for states to adopt college- and career-ready standards.) That's also similar to the Senate Republican bill.
•No reauthorizations of any key Obama administration grant programs, including Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, the School Improvement Grants, or Promise Neighborhoods.
•The bill calls for states to set-aside 3 percent of their Title I funds for a competitive grant program that would allow districts to offer school choice or free tutoring
Maybe the most interesting thing is what's not in the bill: A new Title I school voucher program. Kline and Rep. Eric Cantor, the majority leader, both hinted that they were interested in something along those lines. But that might make it tough for groups representing school districts to support the bill. Could they add that language, however, when the legislation moves to the floor of the House? Perhaps.
Think that three partisan NCLB bills in one week equals no actual reauthorization this year or anytime soon? You're right!