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House Democrats Push Back on NCLB Rewrite Timeline

 Democrats used Wednesday's hearing of the House education committee to rail against the chairman's decision to forgo hearings on how to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act, the widely maligned current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

"I am disappointed the majority has chosen to move forward with their Elementary and Secondary Act reauthorization without holding a single hearing," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the top Democrat on the committee. "Hearings provide the public with the opportunity to explore the research and evidence that is critical to the making of evidence-based policy decisions. And when it comes to improving the academic achievement of all children, we need the best research to help form the basis of any reauthorization."

His comments come just one day after Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., introduced a bill to overhaul the federal K-12 law based on the measure he ushered through the House in the 113th Congress. Kline has scheduled a committee markup of the new bill for Feb. 11, and the chamber's GOP leadership has already blocked out floor time to consider it during the last week in February.

[You can read more about Kline's bill here.]

"Failure to seek input from experts and various stakeholders, and embarking on an expedited process is a disservice to the 50-year, bipartisan history of ESEA and, more importantly, a disservice to our nation's children," Scott said.

Scott will convene a hearing-like forum Thursday morning, where members can expect to hear from nine witnesses representing a variety of education stakeholders.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., also pushed back on Kline's timeline for rewriting the law, arguing that it lacks transparency and hasn't allowed for an open dialogue.

"With all due respect, it's truly unfortunate that new members and I don't have the opportunity to hear stakeholders testify," she said. "The American public deserves an open process."

Democrats on the Senate education committee have begun voicing similar complaints about the process of rewriting the NCLB law in that chamber.

While Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., continues to pledge his commitment to a bipartisan process, some Democrats have criticized the timeline he's laid out, arguing that it doesn't leave enough room to fully resolve some of the biggest policy chasms that exist between the two parties.

Star Witness Talks K-12 Policy

Wednesday's hearing focused on policies aimed at expanding opportunity in schools and workplaces, and largely focused on the higher education space.

But one high-profile witness, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican who previously served a dozen years in the U.S. House of Representatives, focused many of his comments on the K-12 system.

"We realized early on in our state that if we don't succeed in the classroom, then we don't succeed in the marketplace," said Pence said, just days after he unveiled an ambitious education agenda for that state's legislative session.

Pence said most of the state's recent achievements, like increasing scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, are a result of its private school voucher program.

"We are proud to have the largest education voucher programs in the United States of America," he said. More than 30,000 students take advantage of the Indiana voucher programs, and four out of five of them use it to attend schools ranked either an A or B on the state's A-F report card system.

Some of the policies he'll be pushing his legislature to pursue, Pence said, include further lifting the caps on vouchers and new compensation models to increase teacher salaries.

"If you want more good teachers, then pay good teachers more," said Pence, whose wife of more than 30 years is a teacher.

Pence also highlighted Indiana's effort to put a priority on vocational, technical, and career skills in high schools, something both Republicans and Democrats agreed could be useful to address the current skills gap.

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