Lauren Camera, who has been following the Congressional debate on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for Education Week, reported last night: “The U.S. House of Representatives reconsidered and ultimately passed Wednesday a Republican-backed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act…. After considering 14 amendments, including a failed Democratic substitute, members passed the ESEA rewrite, formally known as the Student Success Act, with a very close vote of 218-213. Twenty-seven Republicans crossed party-line to join the entire Democratic caucus in voting against the bill.”
Here is Camera’s summary of the bill’s substance: “Overall, the bill represents a dramatic departure from the current version of the federal K-12 law, the No Child Left Behind Act, and would turn much of the decision making over to states. It would eliminate the current accountability system, known as adequate yearly progress, and despite requiring states to intervene in schools that aren’t performing well, it wouldn’t tell states how to do so or how many schools to try to fix at a time. The measure would also allow states to set their own academic standards, and would prohibit the U.S. Secretary of Education from requiring states to adopt the Common Core Standards, or any other set of standards. While the bill would keep in place the current federal testing schedule and the requirement that states disaggregate student achievement data, Democrats argued those provisions aren’t enough to protect the most disadvantaged students. They took particular exception to provisions in the bill that would allow Title I dollars for low-income students to follow them to the school of their choice.”
This specific provision of the House version, “Title I Portability,” would significantly undermine the Title I Formula. (This blog has critiqued Title I Portability here and here.) In an article posted by the Washington Post last night, Lindsey Layton and Emma Brown define the Title I portability provision that the House passed yesterday: “One of the most contested aspects of the bill would change how federal funds are allocated to help educate poor students. Public schools now receive those federal funds according to a formula based on the number of disadvantaged students enrolled. Under the Republican plan, known as ‘Title I portability,’ the money would ‘follow the child’—if a poor student transferred from a high-poverty school to a wealthier one, the federal money would follow the student to the new school. Democrats argue that the bill would send dollars out of the neediest schools to more affluent ones.” President Barack Obama has threatened to veto any ESEA reauthorization bill that includes Title I portability, and the presence of this measure in the House bill is likely to complicate the work of the conference committee that will have to reconcile this bill with whatever may come out of the Senate, whose bill does not include the portability provision that would undermine the Title I formula.
Interestingly the bill that passed the House also includes a provision that, according to Camera, “would allow parents to opt their students out of the bill’s testing requirements, and would exempt schools from including students that have opted out of the school’s participation requirements.”
Politico‘s education reporters, Maggie Severns, Kimberly Hefling and Jake Sherman, discuss the significance of the very close vote in the House late yesterday: “The 218 to 213 vote in the House reflects the deep schism over education policy in the chamber—and the country. In February, in an embarrassment to House GOP leaders, the bill was abruptly pulled from the floor amid backlash from the conservative arm of the party…. And conservatives—bolstered by aggressive lobbying from Heritage Action and the Club for Growth—wanted provisions included in the bill that would allow states to opt out of the law and still receive federal tax dollars. They also wanted another provision that would allow federal Title I money—intended to improve education for students from low-income families—to follow students from traditional public schools to charter and private schools. They did not get iterations of these provisions in the bill this week.” In other words, although it is an extremely conservative bill, at least the House bill doesn’t contain private school Title I vouchers, something that had been a worry.
Here are some important things that one would wish to see in a bill to expand opportunity for the students who are struggling academically and support and improve the schools that serve them—important things that are entirely omitted from the House bill that passed late yesterday. The bill does not invest additional resources in the public schools in America’s poorest communities. The bill undermines the Title I formula with the new provision called “Title I portability.” The bill does not reduce reliance on standardized tests. The bill still emphasizes sanctions for rather than investments in schools that struggle; it merely kicks responsibility for the sanctions back to the states. Finally the bill fails to recognize and address the devastating impact of family poverty on school achievement at a time when research continues to pile up on all the ways that poverty, racial and economic segregation, and growing inequality limit opportunity.
I urge you to read Lindsey Layton’s profound analysis, published late last night in the Washington Post, of what seems to be going on in the Congressional process of reauthorizing the ESEA. Layton surmises that what’s happening in Congress is not so much an attempt to reshape education policy as it is a repudiation of the vast increase in the federal government’s role—a strong backlash against Education Secretary Arne Duncan himself and the power he has built for the U.S. Department of Education in the past seven years: “Duncan has injected an unusual amount of federal influence into traditionally local decisions about public education. The result is that most Americans now accept public charter schools as an alternative to neighborhood schools, most teachers expect to be judged in some measure on how well their students perform on standardized tests and most states are using more demanding K-12 math and reading standards.” “Duncan has exploited two tools that gave him great leverage. First, he got $4.3 billion from Congress —money designed to prop up the economy after the 2008 recession—and created Race to the Top…. Then he focused on states struggling under No Child Left Behind… Duncan began excusing states from its most onerous aspects as long as they adopted his education policies. Today, 42 states and Washington, D.C., hold these temporary, conditional waivers.” “Duncan now faces a political backlash that threatens to undercut his power and erase some of his most influential work… This week, both houses of Congress began debating legislation that would seriously dial back the education secretary’s legal authority….”