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Reauthorize ESEA Now, or Never

That's the dramatized version of the message former longtime Democratic congressional aide Jack Jennings has for Education Secretary Arne Duncan and crew.

And Congress appears to be leaning towards now, according to a story in the Washington Post that went online late Wednesday night.

If Jennings knows anything after 20-plus years working for Congress, it's the congressional schedule, said Jennings, who is now the Center on Education Policy's president and CEO.

If the gears don't start turning on reauthorization in the next two months, he predicts we'll all have to live with the rules of No Child Left Behind Act until the 2012-13 school year. That's because members of Congress soon will start running for re-election, and they'll become more "risk averse." Then, a new Congress will be seated, and it'll have to get organized. So it will be a while before they're ready to tackle any meaty issues.

By then, in some states, nearly all of the schools could be labeled failing--for not making adequate yearly progress, the signature yardstick of the current accountability law. The Obama administration has already signaled it wants big changes to AYP.

Jennings, who in a conference call Wednesday with reporters was promoting the Center on Education Policy's new report that contains recommendations for reauthorization, said the Obama administration campaigned on "bringing sense to NCLB."

"We're 13 months into the administration, and there's no proposal to do that," he said.

The Education Department wouldn't talk about its timing for releasing its draft proposal of ESEA. But it's possible Duncan and crew may be waiting for Congress to make the first move, à la health care.

According to Nick Anderson's story in the Post, Congress plans to start a series of hearings in the coming weeks. So stay tuned.

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