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Lawmakers File Amendments Ahead of House Debate to Overhaul NCLB

The U.S. House of Representatives is slated to begin debating a Republican-backed rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act on Wednesday, with final passage expected Friday afternoon. Ahead of the three-day debate, lawmakers submitted more than 100 amendments they plan to offer in hopes of altering the bill more to their liking.

The bill, which was written by U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, would significantly curtail the federal footprint in K-12.

Members had until 3 p.m. Monday to file their amendments with the committee that sets the rules for how bills are debated on the floor. A slew of amendments from Republicans were already adopted during the Feb. 11 markup of the bill in the education committee. (See here for a full list.)

The bulk of the amendments filed came from Democrats who are seeking to restore accountability and dedicated funding streams for certain education programs; eliminate a provision that would make Title I dollars for low-income students portable; and restore maintenance of effort, which requires school districts and states to keep up their own spending at a certain level in order to tap federal dollars.

Here's what you can expect during the forthcoming debate, broken down by topic:

Testing

The debate over whether a reimagined version of the law should maintain the current annual testing requirements has garnered the most attention in the NCLB overhaul debate. The House bill would keep the testing schedule in place, requiring states to assess students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school in reading and math. And, just like under current law, science assessments would be required in three different grade spans.

Several amendments filed by members, however, seek to change that.

The most interesting of these is a bipartisan amendment from 10 members would replace current federal yearly testing requirements for math and language arts/reading with the exact same grade span testing requirements that are in current law for science.

But the amendment with the best prospects for passage comes from Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., who filed an amendment based on a bipartisan bill she introduced last month. The proposal would allow states to use federal dollars to audit the number and rigor of tests they give and eliminate any that are redundant or of low quality.

Bonamici originally proposed the amendment during the education committee markup of the bill. She eventually withdrew it after Kline said he agreed with its premise, but objected to the funding increase that it included. Bonamici has since tweaked the language of the amendment in hopes of corralling more support from Republicans.

Other amendments focused on testing include:

  • A bipartisan amendment from Reps. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., that would require school districts to be transparent in providing information to parents at the beginning of the school year on mandated assessments students will have to take.
  • An amendment from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would give states the authority to allow local districts to administer their own, locally designed assessments, in place of the state-designed assessments.

The consensus from lawmakers, both in the House and Senate, seems to be that they'd prefer to keep the annual testing regimen, which resulted in what many consider to be NCLB's only benefit: identifying achievement gaps between subgroups of students.

The much thornier questions, of course, are how data from those tests are to be used, who decides the consequences and rewards for under- and overachieving schools and teachers, and what are those consequences and rewards. In a word: accountability.

Speaking of Accountability

The House bill would eliminate "adequate yearly progress," the current law's yardstick, and give states significant leeway to do what they want. State accountability systems would have to disaggregate achievement data to show how subgroup students are doing compared to the student population as a whole, and states would still have to issue school report cards. But that's pretty much it.

In fact, if districts didn't want to, they wouldn't have to use NCLB-era interventions for schools that miss achievement targets. (Though under the bill, states would have 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.)

In addition, the bill would nix the School Improvement Grant program, which offers formula grants to states to fix up low-performing schools. Instead, states would set aside 7 percent of their own Title I money for school improvement. States would have to intervene in Title I schools that aren't performing well, but the bill doesn't tell them how to do so or how many schools to try to fix at a time.

One amendment from Reps. Mark Walker, R-N.C., and Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., would seek to roll back accountability even further. The measure, which was offered but not adopted the last time the House took up an NCLB overhaul in 2013, would allow states to largely opt out of the accountability requirements, proposing their own plans instead. (The measure is based on the A-Plus Act, which you can read more about here.)

This amendment is being pushed hard by conservative education groups like the Heritage Foundation.

Democrats, on the other hand, filed loads of amendments to put more accountability back into the NCLB rewrite, though it's unlikely that any of them will pass muster in the Republican-controlled House.

Some of those amendments include:

  • An amendment from Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., that would require the education secretary to disapprove state accountability plans that fail to improve academic achievement or fail to improve graduation rates for homeless students.
  • A similar amendment from Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., that would require the education secretary to disapprove state accountability plans that fail to address dropout factories and high schools with graduation rates below 77 percent.
  • Two amendments from Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., that would require districts to address schools that fail to improve graduation rates for English-language learners and minority students, and that fail to improve graduation rates for students in poverty.
  • An amendment from Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., that would require that annual state assessments measure student growth and require that student growth be a component of achievement within the accountability systems.

Title I

The House bill would allow Title I dollars for low-income students to follow them to the public schools of their choice, including charter schools.

An amendment from Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., would further alter Title I portability and allow those dollars to be used to pay for private schools. Messer offered the controversial amendment during committee markup, but eventually withdrew it.

Democrats argue that the provision would take money away from the public school system, stifle accountability, and be a slippery slope to a private voucher system. And allowing Title I dollars to flow to private schools is controversial even for Republicans.

The last time an NCLB rewrite bill hit the floor of the House, then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wanted to offer the same amendment, but because it was feared that the provision would sink the bill if adopted, Cantor struck a gentlemen's agreement with Kline and ultimately withdrew it.

In addition to making Title I dollars portable, the House bill would also eliminate maintenance of effort, and includes language that would allow any school that gets Title I money to use it to run a program that benefits all children. (Under current NCLB law, schools can't operate Title I-funded programs for the whole school unless at least 40 percent of the students are in poverty.)

Democrats filed several amendments to strip out the Title I portability provision, restore maintenance of effort, and more.

Some of those amendments include:

  • An amendment from Reps. Martha Fudge, D-Ohio, Terri Sewell, D-Ala., and Chaka Fattah, D-Penn., that would require states to disclose both the reduction and increase in Title I funds for all districts as a result of portability.
  • An amendment from Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Gwen Moore, D-Wis., that would strike portability language.
  • Three separate amendments that would delay elimination of maintenance of effort until the education secretary determines that doing so does not: decrease spending on or reduce quality of teaching for students in poverty, for English-learners, or for student with disabilities.

Social/Wraparound Services Issues

Members on both sides of the aisle also filed amendments on various social issues, as well as amendments that seek to improve wraparound services like student health. The social issues, which touch on things like abortion, have a tendency to gum up the works. Some aren't likely to be considered during the debate.

Here's a quick run-down of those offerings:

  • An amendment from Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., that would require the education secretary to conduct an assessment of the impact of school start times on student health, well-being, and performance.
  • Another amendment from Grayson that would require the implementation of policies ensuring that a child in foster care who changes schools is able to transfer school credits.
  • An amendment from Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., that would provide funding for school dropout prevention and reentry.
  • An amendment from Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., that would prohibit federal funds to any school that distributes or provides emergency contraception or a prescription for such contraception on the premises or in the facilities of an elementary or secondary school.
  • An amendment from Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., that would allow the secretary to fund states and local school districts to develop emergency operations plans and to provide school security training.
  • An amendment from Rep. Randy Neugebaurer, R-Texas, that would restrict federal K-12 funds from school districts that contract with third-party "school-based health centers" unless they certify they will not perform abortions and will not provide abortion referrals or materials to students.
  • An amendment from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, that would fund programs to enhance school safety, including bullying prevention, cyberbullying prevention, disruption of recruitment activity by groups or individuals involved in violent extremism, and gang prevention programs.
  • An amendment from seven Democrats led by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.

Others Amendments:

And in case you were jonesing for a few more amendments, well, here you go:

  • An amendment offered by Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., that would require states to adopt "college and career ready" standards, as opposed to just "academic" standards.
  • A bipartisan amendment from Langevin and Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Penn., that would require states applying for Title I funding to show how they would use the money to provide apprenticeships that offer academic credit and comprehensive career counseling to the students.
  • An amendment from Rep. Ami Bera, R-Calif., that would require states to report the percentage of students who are either enrolled in a higher education program or employed two years after graduation.
  • An amendment from Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., that would boost STEM education in preschool through high school.
  • An amendment from Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., that would increase funding for the Magnet Schools Assistance program to pre-sequester levels of $100 million.
  • An amendment from Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., that would amend the definition of "high-quality charter school" to include stronger financial management requirements and ensure community involvement and impact.
  • An amendment from Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., that would eliminate the Migrant Education programs.
  • An amendment from Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, that would make funds available for the training and hiring of counselors who specialize in college and career readiness.
  • Another amendment from Castro that would require a neutral Ombudsman within the Department of Education to ensure K-12 textbooks are held to high academic standards.
  • An amendment from Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., that would delay the elimination of a 1 percent cap on alternative assessments for students with significant cognitive delays until the education secretary determines that it will not result in overreliance on the use of less-rigorous assessments for students with disabilities.
  • An amendment from Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., that would require charter schools to hold open board meetings, would require governing board representatives to include parents, educators, and support staff, and would require the meetings to be held at times when parents can attend.
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