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At ESEA Markup, Senate Committee Wrestles With Title I Amendments

At the end of Day One of the Senate education committee's markup of a bipartisan bill to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, senators debated and voted on an entire slate of amendments that fall into the category of Title I, the bulk of which includes funding for low-income students, state accountability systems, and testing.

The Tuesday markup lacked the fireworks of previous attempts to rewrite the law as senators punted on more than a dozen of the more-controversial amendments. They did so out of deference to Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., who negotiated for more than two months to broker the compromise legislation.

"I have this request for members of the committee: Please exercise restraint and help us get to a result," Alexander said in his opening remarks. "Sen. Murray and I have exercised restraint. Neither of us insisted on putting into our base bill every proposal about which we feel strongly, although we will offer some of these as amendments when we reach the Senate floor."

Nearly all the amendments offered came from Democrats and, generally speaking, Alexander opposed any that would create a new requirement for states.

In total, senators offered and then withdrew 14 amendments, including on the most partisan of issues: allowing Title I dollars for low-income students to follow them to the public or private school of their choice; beefing up accountability systems by requiring states to identify their poorest-performing schools; and ensuring Title I funding equity.

Both Alexander and Murray provided very measured responses to various amendments, often noting that they are still negotiating on several difficult policies in order to strike even more bipartisan consensus—especially on many of the amendments that were withdrawn.

The committee approved seven amendments, not counting the manager's amendment (a technical amendment that replaces the entire bill with a newer, nearly identical measure) that was adopted via voice vote at the beginning of the markup.

The most high-profile amendment to pass with a unanimous 22-0 vote was offered by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and would allow states to use federal funds to audit the number and quality of tests and eliminate any they deem ineffective or of low-quality. The same provision was adopted in the now-stalled ESEA rewrite in the House.

Also approved (via voice vote) was an amendment from Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., that would clarify that nothing in the federal law can pre-empt state or local law regarding parents wishing to opt their student out from tests.

During the debate on Isakson's amendment, Murray sought to clarify that the intent of the amendment is to guarantee a parent's right to opt out their child; not to contradict the federal requirement.

"It is a parent's right to decide what is best for his or her child," Murray said. "At the same time, we have to make sure the vast majority of students participate in assessments so all of us parents have objective information."

The markup was to resume Wednesday at 10 a.m. In the meantime, you can read about all 87 amendments filed here, and here's a list of the amendments offered today and the results: 

  • Baldwin's amendment would provide competitive grants to states to work with institutions of higher education to improve the quality, validity, or reliability of state assessments; to develop or improve assessments for students with disabilities; to measure student growth over time; and to evaluate student achievement through new assessments, such as competency-based models, computer-adaptive tests, or portfolios. States could also use funding under this section to audit their state assessments. APPROVED 22-0
  •  An amendment from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would strengthen the innovative assessment and accountability pilot program. APPROVED 22-0
  • An amendment from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., would allow computer-adaptive assessments. APPROVED via voice vote
  • Isakson's amendment would clarify that nothing in the federal law can pre-empt state or local law regarding parents wishing to opt their student out from tests. APPROVED via voice vote
  • An amendment from Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., would require states to assess their systems for collecting data from local districts in order to decrease the burden on districts. APPROVED via voice vote
  • A Baldwin amendment would strengthen career and technical education. APPROVED via voice vote
  • An amendment from Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., would have allowed Title I dollars for low-income students to follow students to the public or private school of their choice. WITHDRAWN
  • An amendment from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would have required states evaluating teachers and principals to explain why their methods make sense. FAILED 10-12
  • An amendment from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., would have helped middle-grade students who are at risk of dropping out of high school make the transition to and complete their secondary schooling. WITHDRAWN
  • A Baldwin amendment would have required states to assess disparities in Title I funding equity among their districts. WITHDRAWN
  • A Bennet amendment would have closed the Title I comparability loophole. WITHDRAWN
  • A Bennet amendment would have required states to identify their poorest-performing 5 percent of schools. WITHDRAWN
  • A Warren amendment would have require schools pursuing a waiver to run schoolwide Title I programs to have their waivers approved by the state. FAILED 10-12
  • A Murray amendment would require data collection for military-connected students. APPROVED 15-7
  • A Warren amendment would have allowed states to cross-tabulate data it is required to collect. WITHDRAWN
  • An Isakson amendment would have struck the 1 percent cap on the number of students assessed using alternate assessments. WITHDRAWN
  • An amendment from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., would have required states to identify low-performing schools that did not meet the state standard for two years in a row and come up with a plan to improve them. WITHDRAWN
  • A Franken amendment would have established a grant program for the educational stability of children in foster care. WITHDRAWN
  • A Baldwin amendment would have provided grants that support comprehensive high school redesign, especially for underserved students. WITHDRAWN
  • A Murphy amendment would have allowed grant recipients to use funds to grow educator salary level for early education. WITHDRAWN
  • A Murphy amendment would ensure state policies work to reduce threats of physical and mental abuse related to seclusion and restraint. VOTE held over until Wednesday
  • A Bennet amendment would have strengthened the focus on student growth as a measure of student achievement. WITHDRAWN
  • A Warren amendment would have ensured that schools with low graduation rates are identified as in need of intervention and support. WITHDRAWN
  • A Warren amendment would have required states to set multi-year improvement goals, including a graduation rate goal of 90 percent. WITHDRAWN
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