January 29, 2015
The Advocate, January 2015
Noelle Ellerson, Associate Executive Director, Policy & Advocacy
AASA, The School Superintendents Association
On Jan. 21, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) released a discussion draft of his ESEA reauthorization proposal, titled Every Child Ready for College or Career Act. The bill is the first piece of ESEA reauthorization in the 114th Congress, one that seems primed not only to move discussion drafts, but to get a comprehensive ESEA reauthorization to President Obama’s desk.
The bill bears a strong resemblance to legislation he sponsored during the last Congress, offered as the Republican substitute to the Democrats partisan ESEA bill. In a nutshell, the bill is an improvement over current law and realigns the balance of power between state, local and federal government (reigning in the federal prescription and overreach that is rampant in current law.).
Please see this overview memo for a summary of what is in the Alexander bill, as well as AASA’s position and suggested talking points. It is never too early for you to reach out to your Congressional delegation. These decisions—these especially critical ESEA decisions—will be made whether you weigh in or not. AASA members are uniquely positioned to inform these decisions. As school system leaders responsible for running entire school districts, supervising staff and development, and supporting student learning, there are few others who can speak so directly to the impact of various federal policies on local school practices.
At this point, AASA remains neutral on the bill. While the bill takes strong steps in the right direction around standards, accountability and assessment, we have deep reservations around portability, education technology, funding caps and maintenance of effort among others. We are in the early part of the process and will continue to work with both Democrats and Republicans to move amendments to improve the bill that we can support.
Sidebar on the Politics of Reauthorization: I have no doubt that each chamber’s committee leadership (Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray for the Senate committee, and Chairman Kline and Ranking Member Scott for the House committee) is committed to moving reauthorization. With the House and Senate now unified under Republican leadership, it should be marginally easier to get a bill to the President’s desk.
The political calculus will likely fall to the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to pass any measure. Since the Republicans don’t have 60 seats in the Senate, any ESEA bill will need to pick up some Democratic supporters. The question is whether Alexander works to get initial bipartisan support coming out of committee, potentially compromising some Republican support from more conservative members, or if he moves a partisan bill through committee and relies on the amendment process to make the bill palatable to voters on both sides of the aisle. The House will move a bill virtually identical to the partisan bill it has moved the last two Congresses. Conferencing any differences between a House and Senate bill could pose a further threat to a final vote in each chamber and/or earning the President’s signature.