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Senate Education Panel Clears Education Research Bill

The Senate education committee cleared an education research bill Wednesday with bipartisan support, altering the House-passed version only slightly before readying it for a full Senate vote.

The bill is the product of a bipartisan, bicameral deal, said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee—the second of its kind this week.

On Monday, the House passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant under suspension of the rules amid much fist bumping from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The unanimous support for the research bill from committee members, signaled through a voice vote, is just the latest in a burst of bipartisanship from both the House and Senate on education bills.

The Strengthening Education through Research Act would reauthorize federal education research through the Institute of Education Sciences.

"This bill enhances the relevancy of research and makes it easier for states and schools to access data," Harkin said.

Specifically, the bill would require outside evaluations of each of IES' centers every three years and require ongoing evaluations of its regional educational laboratories and comprehensive centers.

The measure would also cap the number of the centers at 17 and the labs at 10 to "reduce overlapping duties," and eliminate the specific topics that the National Center for Education Research's research and development centers must cover. The bill would instead require the centers to balance coverage of prekindergarten, K-12, and postsecondary issues.

Finally, the proposal would replace "scientifically based research standards" with "scientifically valid research," intended to encourage more research methodologies beyond so-called "gold standard" randomized-control trials.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was the only member to offer an amendment, which she later withdrew because the bill was the product of pre-arranged deal with the House.

Warren used the bully pulpit to air her grievances that the U.S. Department of Education won't make certain data sets publicly available. The Massachusetts Democrat has become a bit of a crusader for students struggling to repay their federal and private loans, and apparently she's been trying to access information about the department's trillion-dollar federal student loan program.

"In March, I submitted a request to the Education Department on how well student loan servicers were preforming," Warren said. "This is not difficult stuff. It should have at its fingertips. Yet six months later, still nothing. This isn't right. [The department] can't avoid accountability by hiding."

Both Harkin and ranking member Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said they were open to working with Warren on a separate bill regarding her complaint.

"I agree with you wholeheartedly that our ... policymakers, researchers and public need access to the data," said Harkin.

Harkin said he expects the largely noncontroversial research bill to be offered under unanimous consent on the Senate floor, likely after the mid-term elections in November. 

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