President Biden’s Proposed FY 2023 Federal Budget Increases Funding for Key Federal Responsibilities Including Title I, IDEA, and the Office for Civil Rights

A President’s federal budget proposal is a always statement of the President’s priorities.  It is released in the spring, after which time Congress is expected to consider and vote on the priorities before the beginning of the upcoming fiscal year (FY) when the budget will go into effect. But this year, as you may have noticed, stuff continues to be all jammed up in Congress.

The budget for the current fiscal year, the FY 2022 federal budget, was proposed by President Biden over a year ago. But Congress kept putting off voting on it and instead passing a succession of what are known as continuing resolutions. Congress finally passed, and the President signed the FY 2022 federal budget last month—on March 15, to be exact, nearly half a year into the fiscal year to which it applies. This blog covered the recently enacted FY 2022 K-12 public education budget here.

Then at on March 28, the President released his proposed FY 2023 federal budget—his wish list for spending for next fiscal year beginning on October 1, 2022. There has been very little reporting on the newly proposed budget. The primary components of Biden’s proposal, however, indicate that the President’s support for public K-12 public education remains strong. The proposed FY 2023 budget includes increased appropriations for key K-12 programs with an emphasis on increasing the opportunity to learn for populations of students who have historically been left behind across the states.

For the Washington Post, Moriah Balingit and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel summarize the spending priorities in Biden’s Education Department budget overall—including higher education:

“The budget proposal released Monday for fiscal year 2023 comes just 18 days after Congress approved a spending package that significantly pared back the president’s ambitions for education—while still delivering historic increases to key programs. This year’s proposal… (seeks) to increase funding for the Education Department to $88.3 billion. That’s a 16 percent increase when compared with the spending package (for FY 2022) signed into law this month. The White House is asking Congress to double funds for high-poverty schools (and) boost special education funding by 25 percent…. The proposal also includes $100 million for a new program to encourage racial and socioeconomic school integration, and adds $30 million to the Office for Civil Rights.”

Here, from President Biden’s FY 2023 budget proposal, is what the President proposes to spend for several key K-12 public school programs in FY 2023 compared to FY 2022 spending recently signed into law.

  • The President proposes to increase Title I spending from $17.5 billion to $36.5 billion.
  • Funding for IDEA grants would grow from $13.3 billion to $16.3 billion.
  • Funding for Full-Service Community Schools would grow from $75 million to $468 million.
  • Federal Charter Schools Program dollars would be frozen from FY22 to FY23 at $440 million.

In the reports I have been able to find, the names differ from year to year for budget lines for programs to support the health and well-being of students, add more counselors and mental health professionals, and support social and emotional learning. The President proposes to increase funding in FY 2023 for these programs that are urgently needed as schools help students cope with the disruption of COVID 19. The President proposes to increase the allocation for educating English language learners to $1.1 billion.  K-12 Dive reports that the President wants to add $514 million to recruit and train teachers. Additionally the President proposes to increase funding for the Office for Civil Rights by 23 percent to $161 million. Head Start funding, which falls in the Department of Health and Human services would increase to $12.2 billion.

Although many advocates for public schools hoped the President would propose to cut the allocation for the federal Charter Schools Program, this budget line is flat-funded at $440 million.  However, the Department of Education posted a Federal Register notice last week to strengthen oversight of this notoriously poorly regulated program. The first of the new rules would require that charter schools asking for startup funding from the Charter Schools Program conduct and report a community impact study showing that the new school is needed in the community, that its presence will neither undermine existing schools nor the neighborhood, and that the school will not promote racial segregation. The second important new rule would make nonprofit charter schools which are operated under sweeps contracts by for-profit charter management organizations ineligible to qualify for grants from the Charter Schools Program. These urgently important rules are posted for comments until April 13.  Please do send a comment yourself. Here is how to do it.

DeVos Neglects to Help Public Schools Serve Neediest Students while She Pushes to Arm Teachers

Last week while Betsy DeVos stoked an uproar about possibly letting school districts use federal funding for guns to arm teachers, the Senate quietly passed its version of an appropriations bill for the Department of Education in Fiscal Year 2019. The House hasn’t yet passed any kind of education appropriations, and we’ll have to assume that a continuing resolution or a federal shutdown will follow on September 30—the date when next year’s FY19 budget is supposed to be finalized.

With all the sensational talk about teachers packing guns paid for with federal dollars, it is calming to read the rather routine details of the funding that the Senate just voted to appropriate. First off, Betsy DeVos had recommended that the Education Department’s budget be cut, but the Senate bill increases funding  by about $500 million, raising the overall departmental budget to $71.6 billion.  Under the Senate appropriations bill, Title I would get an additional $125 million; special education programs would be increased by the same amount, $125 million.  These are the Department of Education’s biggest K-12 programs. Title I enriches schools where poverty is concentrated and has always been underfunded, especially relative to the growing population of poor students in public schools  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act pays a small fraction—never, until now, more than 19 percent of the cost of federally mandated special education programs—even though Congress promised to fund 40 percent of these costs when the law was passed in 1975.  What is clear is that although Congress is trying to do what’s right relative to proposed cuts by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, we aren’t talking about the kind of significant support public schools really need.

There are encouraging additional positive signs from the Senate, which does not—in its appropriations bill—enact the kind of program priorities Betsy DeVos has proposed.  The Senate appropriations bill does not fold together the education and labor departments. The bill does not eliminate Title II that assists public schools with professional development and salaries for teachers and principals. The bill adds $125 million for Title IV—Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants.  And it flat-funds the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which DeVos has been trying to eliminate altogether; these are the large, collaborative after-school programs that are part of many Community Schools. And despite rumors that DeVos would cut funding for the Office of Civil Rights, the Senate bill adds $8 million.  The Senate appropriates nothing for any federal school voucher or tax credit or education savings account voucher plan, although the Federal Charter Schools Program would get an extra $45 million.

The hot issue of guns in school does not show up in the Senate’s appropriations bill, because the idea DeVos is considering would merely allow school districts to redirect funds out of an already established program for the purpose of buying guns for teachers or school security personnel. The money would come out of Title IV, established in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and dubbed “Student Support and Enrichment.” The NY TimesErica Green explains: “The $1 billion student support program is intended for the country’s poorest schools and calls for school districts to use the money toward three goals: providing a well-rounded education, improving school conditions for learning, and improving the use of technology for digital literacy.”  Lots of people have pointed out that, even though DeVos says school safety is part of improving conditions for learning, the spending of federal money to buy guns to arm teachers who would supposedly protect students doesn’t really seem to qualify.

Green adds that the idea of using federal funds to arm teachers breaks a federal precedent: “Department officials acknowledged that carrying out the proposal would be the first time that a federal agency has authorized the purchase of weapons without a congressional mandate.”  Green continues: “Such a move appears to be unprecedented, reversing a longstanding position taken by the federal government that it should not pay to outfit schools with weapons. And it would also undermine efforts by Congress to restrict the use of federal funding on guns. As recently as March, Congress passed a school safety bill that allocated $50 million a year to local school districts, but expressly prohibited the use of the money for firearms..” When Congress crafted ESSA in 2015, there was pressure to lessen federal intrusion into the educational policy of the states. Congress designed Title IV to free school districts to choose how they would use the federal enrichment dollars and, unlike other federal education laws, did not specifically prohibit the use of the federal dollars to purchase weapons.

Press reports indicate that not much of anybody thinks arming teachers would make public schools safer. The teachers unions oppose it. Democrats and key Republicans in Congress oppose it. Parents worry about what it would do to classrooms, and teachers enumerate the reasons why the practice wouldn’t work if somebody were to come into their school with an automatic rifle.

Education law professor Derek Black ponders the broader meaning of Betsy DeVos’s attention to this matter: “Hats off to Erica Green at the New York Times for a detailed explanation of how federal education dollars can and can’t be spent and the focus of a relatively obscure piece of the federal education funding pie. She interestingly points out something I did not know—that most federal education grants specifically prohibit schools from spending them on guns… That is what makes DeVos’s musings so remarkable… She could be working on finding solutions to things that students in poor schools really need, but instead she is devising strategies to get around Congressional restrictions so she can reallocate federal dollars in ways that no serious and substantial constituency cares about.”

Black continues: “From what I know of the poor schools that receive these federal dollars that she would free up, they need new books, more teachers, better qualified teachers, more well-maintained facilities and technology.  It is hard for me to imagine that more than an insignificant spattering of them will say, ‘You know, we were going to hire a part-time reading specialist this year or our first new computers in eight years, but now that Betsy DeVos has freed us, let’s buy guns instead.’  And the fact that this is what DeVos is spending her time on shows just how small and insignificant this administration is to the quality of educational opportunity in the country.”

In Appropriations Bill, Congress Impedes Betsy DeVos’s Plans

There are reasons to worry that the Trump administration is leading our government in the wrong direction—reasons to worry, for example, about a bellicose foreign policy, the destruction of the environment, insufficient health care for the poor, and the failure to maintain our national parks—but in the recent spending bill for Fiscal Year 2018, the bill to provide programs through the end of September, Congress protected the U.S. Department of Education.

The Washington Post‘s James Hohmann identifies Winners and Losers in the Spending Bill. Betsy DeVos is one of seven losers: “The Education Secretary wanted to spend more than $1 billion promoting vouchers while slashing funding for the rest of her department by $3.6 billion, mostly by taking it from programs that help the poor. She also wanted to make big cuts to the Office for Civil Rights and eliminate grant programs that support student mental-health. The final deal basically does the opposite of everything she asked for.  Her department’s funding goes up by $3.9 billion, but she gets zero of the dollars she wanted for the school choice program.  There’s a $700 million increase in funding for a mental health program that will fund school counselors… The Office for Civil Rights, after-school programs and early-childhood education programs all get money she said she didn’t want.”

The outcome of the recent Congressional appropriations bill for 2018 shouldn’t cause advocates for public education to sit back and relax, however. Betsy DeVos is known for decades of dogged lobbying and philanthropy underwriting her one idea—school privatization, which she defines as “letting parents choose a school that meets each child’s needs.”  She has also been quite willing to follow President Trump’s orders to make her department smaller and to undo rules and regulations imposed during the Obama administration to protect students’ civil rights, regulate unscrupulous for-profit colleges, and rein in the private contractors hired by the Department of Education as processors of college loans and debt collectors.

Congress is, however, paying attention. Here is a prominent example of Congress acting—right in last week’s appropriations bill—when problems in the U.S. Department of Education are brought to the attention of key committee members.  The Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss reports that career Education Department staffers recently notified members of Congress that DeVos had begun reorganizing her department, eliminating a budget office that works closely with Congress, a reorganization that is said even to have concerned Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget. Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, responded by inserting a provision into the omnibus 2018 spending bill that says: “Provided, That, notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds provided by this Act or provided by previous Appropriations Acts to the Department of Education available for obligation or expenditure in the current fiscal year may be used for any activity relating to implementing a reorganization that decentralizes, reduces the staffing level, or alters the responsibilities, structure, authority, or functionality of the Budget Service of the Department of Education, relative to the organization and operation of the Budget Service as in effect on January 1, 2018.”

Washington’s Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has worked tirelessly to rein in DeVos. Education Week‘s Andrew Ujifusa describes Murray’s satisfaction that Congress has so far been able to defend much of the federal government’s role to support public education and protect the rights of all students: “Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state praised the bipartisan agreement to dismiss the ‘extreme ideas to privatize our nation’s public schools and dismantle the Department of Education… I’m proud to have worked with Republicans in Congress to flatly reject these ideas and increase funding for programs Secretary DeVos tried to cut, including K-12 education, civil rights protections, college affordability, and more.'”

Before detailing the spending levels Congress appropriated last week, it is important to put all this into perspective.  According to a November 2017 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, spending by states and local school districts, which together have over ninety percent of the fiscal responsibility for public schools, remains lower in 29 states than before the Great Recession hit in 2008. And reductions in federal funding have exacerbated the problems for states and local school districts: “Federal funding for most forms of state and local aid has fallen.  Federal policymakers have cut ongoing federal funding for states and localities—outside of Medicaid—in recent years, thereby worsening state fiscal conditions…. (N)on-defense ‘discretionary’ funding (that is, funding that is annually appropriated by Congress), is near record lows as a share of the economy.  Federal spending for Title I—the major federal assistance for high-poverty schools—is down 6.2 percent since 2008, after adjusting for inflation.”

In the 2018 appropriations bill passed last week, Congress kept spending levels for essential federal public school support at or somewhat above what was spent last year.  Here is Education Week‘s Andrew Ujifusa describing the funding levels Congress appropriated: “Lawmakers boosted overall spending at the Education Department by $2.6 billion over previously enacted levels in fiscal 2018, up to $70.9 billion.  It’s the highest-ever appropriation for discretionary spending at the Education Department on paper, although not when you adjust for inflation.  In addition, funding for Title I, the biggest pot of federal money for public schools, which is earmarked for disadvantaged students, is rising by $300 million from fiscal 2017 enacted spending, up to $15.8 billion.” The 2018 appropriations bill also includes an additional $299 million for programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a boost for that essential and (still drastically underfunded) federal program to $13.1 billion.  In opposition to Trump’s and DeVos’s wishes, Congress increased the budget for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights from $109 to $117 million.

DeVos had proposed to eliminate Title II, which school districts use to provide professional development for teachers, but Congress funded it at the same level as last year.  DeVos had also proposed eliminating a huge after-school program,the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, in which school districts collaborate with community agencies. These programs are often incorporated as an essential piece in wraparound, full-service Community Schools. Instead of eliminating 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Congress added $20 million to bring the total budget up to $1.2 billion.

In other programs that support children and therefore assist public schools, Congress added $2.37 billion to the Child Care Development Block Grant and added $610 million to support Head Start.

Ujifusa concludes: “Trump’s budget plan for fiscal 2018 would have cut discretionary education spending by $9.2 billion.  So the final appropriations for fiscal 2018 are a significant rebuke of sorts to the president’s education vision.  In fact, the bill Trump signed into law omitted the $250 million private school choice initiative the president and DeVos sought, as well as a $1 billion program designed to encourage open enrollment in districts.

All of this reflects the voices of so many teachers, parents and citizens who have relentlessly pushed back against the extreme anti-government, anti-public education policies of Betsy DeVos and who, this year, have articulated strong support for the institution of public education.  Please keep on keeping on.

Betsy DeVos Will Try to Use Federal Grants to Privatize Education

Like foundations, the U.S. Department of Education runs a competitive grant program.  At $700 million, it is small compared to the Department’s formula programs like Title I and funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—but significant nonetheless. Earlier this month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released her priorities that will determine which proposals are funded.

DeVos’s priorities are all over the map, though her top priority is predictable—empowering families with greater school choice.  Here are the others: promoting innovation and efficiency, fostering flexible paths to obtaining knowledge and skills, fostering knowledge and developing students’ skills, meeting the unique needs of students including student with disabilities, promoting STEM education, promoting literacy, promoting effective instruction, promoting economic opportunity, improving school climate, and ensuring that children in military families have access to school choice.

Rarely do I agree with Michael Petrilli, president of the far-right, pro-privatization Thomas B. Fordham Institute, but this time Petrilli accurately pegs the meaninglessness of the list: “This is like a Christmas tree, with all kinds of shiny objects.  Almost every idea in American education, good or bad, is represented here. What also matters is whether they actually use any of these priorities in grant programs. They are giving themselves maximum flexibility by including such a big menu….”

Education Week‘s Alyson Klein believes DeVos’s top priority—expanding school choice for parents—is really the only priority that matters.  After all, Betsy DeVos has declared this priority every time she has made a speech since she was confirmed by Congress as U.S. Secretary of Education last January.  Klein explains the significance of the $700 million grant line in the Department of Education’s budget: “These competitive-grant(s)… are one of the few levers DeVos has for expanding choice—her number one policy priority—without help from Congress.”

During the Obama administration Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expanded the use of federal grants in education when billions of federal stimulus dollars were awarded through competitive grants. Copying the procedure of philanthropy, Duncan, who staffed some of the key positions in his department with people right out of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched competitive programs like Race to the Top, School Improvement, and Innovation grants. Winning states agreed to adopt pet policies of Arne Duncan’s Department of Education such as adopting standards like the Common Core and incorporating students’ test scores in the evaluations of teachers. Use of competitive granting by the Department of Education has been much reduced, however—back down to $700 million. The federal stimulus was a one-time event, and Duncan’s competitive programs proved unsuccessful for improving schools.

Fortunately, the big-ticket items in the Department of Education are formula programs controlled by Congressional appropriations and not subject to the whims of the Secretary of Education. Title I, the centerpiece of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, awards over $15 billion annually to school districts serving a high number or concentration of children living in poverty. Funding to support programs mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—$12 billion—is also awarded annually by formula determined by the number of students with disabilities (and types of their disabilities) in each school district.  Formula funding is stable and can be counted on by school districts to pay for ongoing programming; competitive grants, by contrast, are a one-time infusion of revenue and not suitable for covering schools’ operating expenses. Federal grants, like foundation grants, can support developing a piece of curriculum, purchasing technology, or contracting with consultants to train teachers.  One-time grants, by their very nature—whether from a philanthropy or the federal government—cannot pay for hiring more teachers or counselors.

We can pretty much predict what sort of projects are likely to be funded under the Department of Education’s $700 million grant fund this year.  The first priority listed—“empowering families to choose a high-quality education that meets their child’s unique needs”—is Betsy DeVos’s top priority. If we hadn’t learned that lesson through DeVos’s own strategy of repeating her one idea, we are reminded by this bit of history from Jane Mayer’s New Yorker profile last week of Vice President Mike Pence. Betsy DeVos, like an army of allies of the Koch Brothers, was proposed for her position by Mike Pence, when he led President Trump’s transition team hiring: “Trump began to appoint an extraordinary number of officials with ties to the Kochs and to Pence…  Betsy DeVos, a billionaire heiress, who had been a major member of the Koch’s donor network and a supporter of Pence, was  named Secretary of Education… A recent analysis by the Checks & Balances Project found that sixteen high-ranking officials in the Trump White House had ties to the Kochs.”

On ESEA’s 50th Anniversary, Jack Jennings’ New Book Traces History of Federal Education Aid

Tomorrow, April 11, 2015, is the 50th birthday of the federal role in education. On April 11, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  I decided to honor this important anniversary by spending yesterday and last evening reading Jack Jennings’ new book about the federal role in public education, Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools: The Politics of Education Reform.  Jennings knows his subject.  During much of the history of ESEA, from 1967 until 1994, Jennings served as subcommittee staff director and then general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor.  In 1995, he founded the nonprofit Center on Education Policy, which he led until his retirement in 2012.

In his book, Jennings suggests a new way to conceptualize the role of the federal government in a renewed ESEA.  He calls his proposal a “United for Students Act” that would be designed to address: needed preparation for schooling; improvement of teacher quality; extra resources for difficult schools; the need for more challenging content; and adequate and fair funding.  I encourage you to read Jennings’ book and consider his proposal.

In this post, however, and in honor of tomorrow’s ESEA birthday, I want to share some of the story Jennings tells about ESEA’s origin and its changes over the years.  Jennings explains: “The congressional creators of federal aid in the 1960s believed that the obstacle to better schooling was a lack of money: once sufficient funding was provided to equalize expenditures among school districts, it was assumed that educators would know what to do to improve education.  In contrast, the architects of the standards/tests/accountability reforms of the 1990s and 2000s believed that student academic achievement could be improved by setting high academic standards, using tests to measure attainment of those standards and holding teachers and schools accountable for poor results.  Providing more money to assist with this job was not necessary in the minds of many proponents of this second reform.  Neither of those two extremes has proved to be correct in its assumptions.  The past fifty years’ experiences have shown that education is too complex to have easy answers.” (pp. 4-5)

In every chapter, however, Jennings reminds all of us who have spent the past fifteen years trying to swim in a  sea of rhetoric about  accountability that ESEA’s original goal was very different from No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB’s) goal: expanding educational opportunity for poor children through federal investment in their schools which were also underfunded.  The realities of funding inequity continue today: “First, per-pupil expenditures in the United States are not equal for all students; instead, the pattern is the opposite of what it should be.  Students from families of higher socioeconomic status often have more resources spent on their education than do children in low-income families… Second, most of the increased spending over the last several decades has gone toward the extra costs of services for children with disabilities and to school lunch programs and other indirect expenses.  Only a fraction of the increases has gone toward improving regular instruction for the majority of children.” (pp. 179-180)  A primary flaw in Title I, according to Jennings, was not its strategy of focusing on funding so much as the meager level at which Title I was funded: “Providing a little extra help for disadvantaged students, while laudable, is not nearly enough in a school system that permits spending far more money on advantaged students than it does on those who are disadvantaged… The current (Title I) policy of inserting a little extra help for students into an inequitable system of schooling has not brought about the quality of education we need.  The other current federal strategy—demanding extensive testing of students—has not resulted in a broad increase in student achievement.” (pp. 7-10)

Quoting from David Cohen and Susan Moffitt’s history of Title I, Jennings acknowledges the contributions of Title I despite its limitations: “If we consider where America was in 1965 with respect to the education of disadvantaged children, Title I had made significant progress by the end of the 1970s.  It delivered funds that were reasonably well targeted to schools with disadvantaged students.  It helped to make better education for disadvantaged students a new educational priority.  It moved local use of federal funds from diverse and non-instructional services to instruction…. Despite its modest size and grave weaknesses, it also stopped the relative slide in achievement for many of its students and enabled them to make small relative gains in the early grades.” (Jennings, pp. 44-45) (Cohen and Moffitt, The Ordeal of Equality, pp 97-98)  In the early 1980s, before President Ronald Reagan’s administration reduced education revenue from federal sources by roughly 30 percent, the Title I program served more than 4.75 million children, provided 3.5 million children with supplementary reading instruction and 2.2 million with supplementary math instruction, and paid for 160,600 full-time equivalent staff. (pp. 45-47)

The recent NCLB version of ESEA, in contrast, has made enormous demands on already underfunded schools without providing commensurate federal funding, despite a small bump in federal funding in NCLB’s very early years:  “The New America Foundation, which monitors federal appropriations, concluded that since NCLB was enacted in 2002, ‘federal appropriations for Title I have remained fairly flat.’  They suggest that the (funding) increases immediately after the passage of NCLB did not amount to much.  Therefore, states and school districts were left to foot the bill.” (p. 149)

Jennings goes beyond presenting ideas for his United for Students bill.  He adds up the costs he believes it would be necessary for the federal government to cover—$35 billion. “The federal contribution to public elementary and secondary education would thus be doubled, from $35 billion to $70 billion…. The federal government now provides about 10 percent of the country’s total costs of elementary and secondary education.  This proposal would increase that amount to 20 percent.  The federal government has the fiscal capacity to make this increased contribution because it has broad taxing powers and a national taxing base.” (pp. 199-201)

While Jennings willingly describes the shortcomings of Title I as a relatively small, unregulated funding stream, he tracks the urgent need for greater federal financial investment in educational equity through every single chapter of this book.  We must ask more from Congress—as it considers the reauthorization of ESEA—than merely cutting back on test-and-punish. Even as Jennings sets some new goals for the federal role in education, he insists that the federal government must do more to help pay for a system that prioritizes expanding opportunity for America’s poorest children.

Debate on NCLB Reauthorization Dies on House Floor Late Friday; No Vote Taken

The bill—passed out of committee in mid-February and considered on the floor of  the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday—to launch a long-overdue reauthorization of the federal education law was not a good bill.  I certainly did not support it.  But there was widespread belief that the bill, ushered through the committee process by John Kline (R-MN) would be affirmed by a House of Representatives dominated by Kline’s own Republican Party.  However, late on Friday afternoon after two days of debate, House leaders indefinitely postponed a vote, admitting they did not have the support needed to pass the version Kline and his committee had brought forward.

The bill’s purpose is to reauthorize the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  While ESEA is supposed to be reauthorized every five years, the current version, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was signed into law in 2002.

“In a political embarrassment for Republicans,” writes Kimberly Hefling for the Associated Press, “House GOP leaders on Friday abruptly cancelled a vote on a bill to update the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law after struggling to find support from conservatives.”

It would be reassuring if what people expected to be consensus had fallen apart over the parts of the bill that would undermine the original purpose of ESEA—the centerpiece of Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, but strong support remained among House conservatives for several provisions that would undermine the federal role in education of promoting equity.  Consensus remained about several parts of the House version, for example, that would further undermine opportunity for poor children, especially those in urban school districts. No one questioned a provision in the proposed bill called “Title I Portability,” which would threaten the purpose of the Title I formula, which targets federal funding to school districts where family poverty is concentrated—the school districts that must meet the extraordinary needs of masses of children whose economic needs dominate their lives.  Strong support also remained for freezing  federal funding for education. The national advocacy organization, the Committee on Education Funding, warns that the House version, “would freeze funding in the aggregate for programs authorized in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act through the 2021-2022 school year. HR 5 freezes the aggregate ESEA authorization level for Fiscal Year 2016 and for each of the succeeding five years (that would be covered by a 2015, five-year reauthorization of NCLB) at the aggregate FY 2016 appropriated level of $23.30 billion.  Not only will this prevent needed investments for critical programs for the next six years, but it cuts funding below the FY 2012 pre-sequester level of $24.11 billion (a cut of 3.36 percent).”

Nobody expected to see civil rights protections or generous school funding in a bill coming from today’s extremely conservative House of Representatives, however.  A similar bill sponsored by John Kline when Congress tried in 2013 to reauthorize ESEA/NCLB passed the House but with not one vote in favor from a Democrat. And when this year’s bill was passed out of the House Education and Workforce Committee, it had no Democratic votes in favor

So what divided House Republicans and prevented Kline’s bill from moving forward for a vote?  Hefling describes, “opposition to the Obama administration’s encouragement of the Common Core state standards.”  She explains that the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth strongly urged members to oppose the bill.  Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post quotes Lindsey Burke, a lobbyist from the Heritage Foundation, promoting states’ rights and an erasure of the federal role in education: “This proposal spends nearly as much as No Child Left Behind, is nearly as long in page length and fails to give states an option to opt out of the law.  As it stands, it’s a huge missed opportunity to restore state and local control of education.” Maggie Severns of Politico Pro also notes the role of far-right lobbying: “An amendment pushed by Heritage Action that would allow states to opt out of the law’s requirements altogether but still receive federal funds was left on the cutting room floor when the bill went through the House Rules Committee.  Heritage and The Club for Growth both strongly opposed the bill.”  Many conservative House members were also apparently upset that private school Title I vouchers were not added to the bill.

Alyson Klein, Education Week‘s federal policy reporter, speculates that the disintegration of support for the House Republican bill portends that Congress will not be able to reauthorize ESEA until after the 2016 election: “It’s possible that Kline and other leaders will find the votes to pass the bill next week—but if they don’t, the bid to update the NCLB law this year could be in serious trouble… If efforts to rewrite the law falter, it would mean that states would have to continue to live under U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s stop-gap solution: A series of (increasingly unpopular) waivers from parts of NCLB law, which call for states to adopt certain education reform priorities (like high standards) in order to get flexibility from some of the law’s mandates…”

Passage of an ESEA reauthorization remained problematic even prior to the collapse of support from House conservatives on Friday.  Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of that chamber’s Health,Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is working with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to craft a bipartisan bill in the Senate. One wonders how House and Senate versions could have been reconciled. And prior to Friday, President Barack Obama had threatened to veto any bill that contains the provisions that were the centerpiece of the House version: Title I portability that undermines the targeting of federal funds for school districts serving children in concentrated poverty and the limitations that would freeze federal education funding for at least five years (until another reauthorization) at a level below what President Obama has asked for in a Fiscal Year 2016 federal budget proposal.