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Rep. John Kline to Retire; Lawmaker Supported Increased IDEA Funding

john_kline_retires.jpgBy Lauren Camera

Cross-posted from Politics K-12

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House education committee, announced Thursday that he will not be seeking re-election in 2016.

"Strengthening our nation's classrooms and workplaces has been at the forefront of the committee's agenda since I was first selected to serve as chairman, and it will continue to be my leading priority in the months ahead," he said in a press release. "Whether it's replacing No Child Left Behind, holding the Obama administration accountable for its harmful policies, or strengthening higher education, there is a lot of work to do over the next 16 months."

Kline is the author of the Republican-backed Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, which cleared the House on a party-line vote in July. His forthcoming departure puts added pressure on lawmakers in both chambers to come to an agreement on their respective ESEA overhauls before the end of the year.

"I remain humbled by the opportunity to lead the committee, and I intend to finish strong and to continue delivering commonsense reforms America's student, parents, workers, and employers deserve," he said.

Kline was first elected to the House in 2002 and has been the top Republican on the education committee since 2009, where he's prioritized rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act, the latest iteration of ESEA.

He became chairman of the committee in 2011, after Republicans swept in the mid-term elections.

"We're sad to see Chairman Kline go," said Mary Kusler, director of government relations at the 3-million member National Education Association. "He's been a pragmatic leader that's been unafraid to talk about the importance of our public education system in this country and the important role that the federal government has in that system. Granted he would like less of a federal role than currently exists, but overall he has really been a champion."

"This is a defining moment," Kusler added. "If he can get a [ESEA] bill to the president's desk, this will matter a lot."

During his skippering of the committee, Kline has ushered an ESEA rewrite through the full House twice. He's also helped push through the chamber a charter schools bill, a workforce training bill, a child care development bill, and an education research bill.

In addition, he's worked to get three higher education bills through the House with bipartisan backing—one that would increase financial-aid counseling, another that would simplify the amount of financial forecasting families received for estimated college costs, and another that would allow colleges to test competency-based degree programs.

The workforce training and the child care measures are the only ones that were signed into law by the president.

In a 2014 interview with Education Week, Kline  promised to devote new energy to boosting federal special education spending. Currently, the federal government pays for about 18 percent of the excess costs of educating the nation's students with disabilities. 

Kline has been a vociferous critic of the Obama administration's education agenda, particularly its NCLB waivers, which he's argued are on shaky legal ground, educationally problematic, and a troubling source of policy uncertainty for state leaders.

In an interview with Education Week after the election in November, he said: "I've been trying and trying to get No Child Left Behind replaced ... I'm looking at every way to get it done. It's the most important [education priority] because states are struggling with the temporary-waiver system set up by the administration. We need to change the law."

Kline is a member of the Republican Study Committee, a group of the most conservative House members, but he's more moderate when it comes to education policy. In rewriting ESEA, for example, he's been less inclined to support voucher programs and instead interested in passing a bill that would replicate high-quality charter schools.

"Kline is a legislator who came up at time when moderate was a good thing and not a poison pill," said Noelle Ellerson, associate executive director of policy and advocacy at AASA, the School Superintendents Association. "He was able to hold true to that even when it became an increasingly difficult task. He had end goals and there were things that were nonnegotiable. But there were also things he was willing to trade on. That's really what you want, what policy needs, what education needs, and what we're going to miss."

The Minnesota Republican has been a big proponent of fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and has continually slammed the Obama administration over its annual budget proposals for the program for students with special needs.

Despite being targeted by liberal HBO personality Bill Maher's "flip a district" effort during the last election, Kline easily recaptured his seat, as he's done ever since his first election.

Kline, a 25-year Marine Corps veteran, also had a storied military career that included piloting helicopters in Vietnam, commanding aviation forces in Somalia, and flying the presidential helicopter, Marine One. He also carried the briefcase containing the country's nuclear attack codes for both former President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Even if Kline sought re-election and won, he is term-limited on the education committee, so this would be his last year spearheading education priorities anyway. Reps. Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina are the next two most senior Republican members.

Photo: U.S. Rep. John Kline, head of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, meets in 2013 with school board leaders and superintendents at a round-table session in his Minnesota district.—Jenn Ackerman for Education Week.


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