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House Will Clear NCLB Reauthorization By March, Ed. Leader Says

The House is on track to pass its rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law by the end of March, said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., Chairman of the House education committee, at an event in Washington Jan. 22.

Kline said he will use the Student Success Act—the bill he ushered through the House in the 113th Congress—as the starting point for the legislative process, which will begin with a committee markup in the coming weeks.

"We've already had lots of hearings [last Congress]," Kline said Thursday morning at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington. "It's time to get something to the president's desk. We have our legislation well teed up."

Kline said he's been in touch with House leadership, including Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and he's been told he will be able to get floor time for the bill as early as February.

Among other things, the Student Success Act would keep NCLB's testing regime in place (each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school), but leave the actual school improvement decisions completely up to states. It would combine a slew of education programs—including those for migrant children, delinquent students, English-Language learners, and others—into one giant funding stream, with the aim of giving states and districts maximum flexibility.

The bill would also repeal the "maintenance of effort" requirement, which requires school districts and states to keep up their own spending at a certain level in order to tap federal dollars. It would eliminate the current law's requirement that teachers be "highly qualified," which means they must show they are competent in the subject they are teaching, hold a bachelor's degree, and be certified in their states.

Kline acknowledged that there is a lot of attention being paid to the current law's annual-testing scheme and whether or not to maintain it or replace it with grade-span testing.

"It's important that we keep enough meaningful data that we make sure we're not leaving kids behind. And what that looks like I'm not sure," Kline said. "Right now, I'm afraid of moving away from annual testing too far, because then you don't have usable data." 

He said he expects various amendments offered in committee and on the floor regarding assessments.

"A lot of the pushback on testing is that there are draconian consequences if you're not doing well on the testing, and by taking away that federal footprint of [adequate yearly progress], it will relieve some of the angst that goes along with testing," Kline added.

As for other big issues in the reauthorization, Kline said that the bill would likely include language encouraging the expansion of high-quality charter schools and also Title I portability within the public school system, two provisions included in the bill the House cleared in 2013.

"I'm a proponent of choice," Kline said.

Kline noted that former Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., offered a voucher amendment to the reauthorization bill last Congress that would have allowed Title I money to be used at any school, including private schools.

"We simply couldn't pass it," he said. "The votes weren't there in the House. I still don't think the votes are there for the private schools."

Title I portability is currently included in a reauthorization discussion draft from Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Chairman of the Senate education committee.

It's unclear whether Kline's bill would require districts to craft teacher evaluations based in part on student outcomes, and use them in personnel decisions. That provision was included in the Student Success Act, but later eliminated during the amendment process on the floor.

During his speech, Kline also said his committee is working double-time to overhaul the Higher Education Act, which he expects to move after NCLB reauthorization.

Again, Kline said he plans to draw on much of the work his committee did towards the end of last Congress.

"We held 14 subcommittee- and full committee-level hearings on higher education," Kline said. "So we're not staring from scratch there. We're rolling and we're moving quickly."

That means we can expect legislative proposals that would simplify the student loan application; restructure the myriad federal student loans and grants into one loan and one grant; allow colleges to experiment with competency-based degree programs; and increase financial aid counseling. 

As for a higher education timeline, Kline couldn't be as precise. He noted, however, that 2016 is a presidential election year.

"Once you get into that year, it gets really hard," he said. "The whole narrative changes, so I'm anxious to move quickly."

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