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NEA Bullish on Prospects for Senate Passage of Bipartisan ESEA Rewrite

UPDATED

Officials at the nation's largest teachers' union said Thursday that they've been told to expect the bipartisan rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to land on the Senate floor for consideration this upcoming work period and as soon as the last week in April.

In a background call with reporters, officials from the 3 million-member National Education Association shared their perspective on how the Senate will likely usher the negotiated overhaul of the federal K-12 law through the legislative process.

The "Every Child Achieves Act," unveiled Tuesday by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chairman and ranking member of the education committee, is slated for a committee markup on Tuesday, a process that NEA officials have been told will likely wrap up Wednesday evening but could span the entire week.

They underscored that the Alexander-Murray compromise is the first time since Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act back in 2001 that there is a bipartisan agreement on the policy in a reauthorization proposal—not just a bipartisan agreement on the process of the proposal.

Also notable, they said, are Alexander and Murray's individual leadership positions within their broader caucuses. Alexander held the No. 3 leadership position of Republican Conference Chairman until he stepped down in 2011 to focus on policy issues, including education, where there was some bipartisan consensus. Murray, meanwhile, holds the No. 4 spot as Secretary of the Democratic Conference. That they're well-respected among their peers and have close relationships with their respective party leaders increases the weight of their legislative agreement and bodes well for their ability to whip their colleagues should the measure hit the floor.

Speaking of the bill getting to the floor, the last time the Senate voted on a reauthorization of the ESEA was when it debatedĀ (for seven weeks!) theĀ NCLB Act, the current version of the law. That means most current senators have never cast a vote on the K-12 law. In fact, NEA officials said, only 28 senators who are still in office today were in office at the time of that vote. With a looming presidential and congressional election season, lawmakers will likely want the opportunity to cast a vote on an important public policy issue. [CORRECTION: The number of senators who are in office today that were also in office at the time Congress voted on NCLB has been corrected.]

The teacher's union officials underscored the role their members have played in continuing to push lawmakers in both chambers to overhaul the law, noting that since Jan. 1, its members have sent more than 130,000 emails to members of Congress. On Monday, the NEA launched a second six-figure advertising buy in the 13 key states that are home to members of the Senate education committee.

[CLARIFICATION AND UPDATE]: The NEA has yet to take a policy position on the substance of the 600-page Senate bill and is still reviewing the details. Among the high-profile policy changes--or lack of changes--that education advocates in general have been wrestling with, the bill would:

  • Eliminate the current accountability yardstick (adequate yearly progress);
  • Keep the federal annual testing requirement;
  • Keep maintenance of effort;
  • Maintain a 1 percent cap on alternative assessments for students with disabilities;
  • Not let Title I dollars follow students to the school of their choice;
  • Not require teacher evaluations.

In the view of some advocates, the bill also does not do enough to close opportunity gaps.

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