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Education Groups to Leaders in Congress: Get ESEA Rewrite Over Finish Line

The same 10 major education organizations that called for the Senate to prioritize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act rewrite and put it on the chamber floor for debate are at it again. This time, they're urging congressional leaders to move swiftly into conference.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the majority and minority leaders in both the House and the Senate, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of each chambers' education committee, the education groups insisted that they "build on the momentum generated this month around ESEA reauthorization by proceeding to conference as soon as possible."

The groups include, among others, the two national teachers' unions—the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers—the Council of Chief State School Officers, the School Superintendents Association (AASA), and the National Association of State Boards of Education.

"We are now closer than we have been in the last eight years to producing a new law as both houses of Congress have passed ESEA reauthorization proposals," the letter reads. "However, as you are well aware, there is still more work to be done before we reach our goal."

You can read the entire letter here.

The push to get the federal K-12 rewrite over the finish lines comes a week after the Senate passed its version of the reauthorization with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 81-17.

After a false start, the House was finally able to cobble together enough support to pass its ESEA overhaul earlier in July, though without the support of a single Democrat.

Education leaders from both chambers must now begin brokering a negotiated version of the two starkly differing House and Senate bills, in hopes of delivering something to the president's desk this fall.

The education groups' influence should not be overlooked. Just one day after they huddled to demand the Senate put its ESEA rewrite on the floor for debate, Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash, the co-authors of the bill, announced that it has been scheduled. And the groups' banding together was cited several times by senators on both sides of the aisle over the course of the two-week-long floor debate. 

The conference process is likely to start in earnest once lawmakers return to Washington from their five-week summer break in September.

And conferees will have to overcome some serious policy differences.

Chief among those disparities is how to beef up accountability in a way that appeases the concerns of Democrats and the civil rights community, who demanded that the end result must include stronger federal guardrails for the most disadvantaged students, while at the same time ensuring the small federal footprint that Republicans are adamant about.

The conference appointees will also debate whether to maintain two provisions in the House bill that are not in the Senate bill: One that would allow Title I dollars for low-income children to follow them to the school of their choice, and another that would eliminate language in the current law that allows the federal government to punish schools and states where lots of students are opting out of tests.

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