Senate Debates NCLB; House Passes NCLB Rewrite Legislation, Student Success Act

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This past week the full Senate began work to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with the Every Child Achieves Act, legislation that would replace No Child Left Behind, first signed into law 14 years ago and scheduled for reauthorization 7 years ago.

Also last week, the House of Representatives narrowly voted (218 to 213) to approve the Student Success Act, their version of legislation to replace No Child Left Behind. This conservative bill would significantly reduce the federal government’s role in K-12 education. Twenty seven Republicans joined all House Democrats in voting against the bill.

ESEA in the House: Student Success Act (H.R. 5)

The Student Success Act dramatically reduces the federal role in education by returning authority for measuring student performance and turning around low-performing schools to states and local officials.

It requires states to establish academic standards in reading, math, and science and maintains current law requirements that states develop and implement a set of assessments for all students in reading and math in each of grades three through eight and once in high school, and in science once in each of the grade spans for grades three through five, six through nine, and 10 through 12.

It eliminates federal “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) and allows states to develop their own accountability systems and allows states to develop turnaround strategies for low performing schools.

The Student Success Act also allows states to develop and implement teacher evaluation systems without conditions from the federal government.

It contains a Title I Portability provision, giving states the option of allowing Title I money to follow low-income students to a public or charter school of the parent’s choice.

The bill also severely limits the authority of the Secretary of Education over decisions in the classroom by prohibiting the Secretary from imposing conditions on states and school districts, including the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, in exchange for a waiver of federal elementary and secondary education law or federal grant funds. The bill prevents the Secretary from creating additional burdens on states and districts through the regulatory process, particularly in the areas of standards, assessments, and state accountability plans and prohibits the Secretary from demanding changes to state standards and influencing and coercing states to enter into partnerships with other states.

During floor debate an amendment to allow states to use federal funds without federal restrictions was rejected. However, an amendment that would allow parents to opt their children out of testing required under the bill was adopted with the support of a few Democrats.

This bill has been roundly opposed by House Democrats, teachers’ unions and civil rights groups, who say it doesn’t invest enough in high poverty districts and will not hold schools accountable for the student achievement of minority students and students with disabilities. The Administration has said it would veto this bill.

Read a summary of House bill Student Success Act here.

ESEA in the Senate: Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177)

The full Senate is expected to continue debate on their NCLB rewrite the week of July 13. The debate surrounding this legislation is quite different than what occurred in the House, since this bill was crafted with bipartisan support in a process lead by the two education champions, Senators Alexander and Murray. The bill also received a unanimous vote in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee.

Key outstanding issues with the bill include accountability, equity/resources, and Title I portability (vouchers).

With an open amendment process, there have been a number of amendments offered to the bill. An amendment that would allow Title I dollars to follow students was defeated, but more voucher amendments by Republicans are expected.

Also expected this week is an amendment/debate on a five-year, federal-state partnership to expand and improve early-learning opportunities for children from birth to age 5.

The Senate Every Child Achieves Act maintains the current NCLB testing requirements, but allows the states to decide their accountability structure. It also maintains the requirement that states report disaggregated data to highlight achievements of subgroups of students. Many groups have been vocal about strengthening accountability requirements, and the Administration would like to see language included that would require states have a plan in place to address the lowest-performing 5-percent of schools in each state.

It also restricts the power of the Secretary of Education with language that says the federal government may not mandate or provide incentives for states to adopt any particular set of standards, including the Common Core State Standards.

Section 2005 of the Every Child Achieves Act, which was added in a bipartisan Franken-Kirk Amendment during HELP Committee consideration, establishes a program to provide each state with formula-based funding that would be used to support partnerships between local schools, businesses, universities, and non-profit organizations to improve student learning in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. Each state would choose how to spend and prioritize these funds, which can support a wide range of STEM activities from in-depth teacher training, to engineering design competitions, to improving the diversity of the STEM workforce. NSTA and the STEM Education Coalition have been very vocal in their support of a strong STEM education component in this legislation.

Check back soon for an update on this legislation and the Senate action this week.

Read more about Day one of ESEA

Read more about Day two of ESEA debate in the Senate and Passage of House Student Success Act.

Stay tuned and look for upcoming issues of NSTA Express for the latest information on developments in Washington, D.C.

Jodi Peterson is Assistant Executive Director of Legislative Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. e-mail Jodi at jpeterson@nsta.org; follow her on Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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