House and Senate Leaders Begin Work to Reconcile Education Bills to Replace No Child Left Behind: NSTA Legislative Update for July 31, 2015

Text based header that says "STEM education advocates will be strongly encouraged to reach out to targeted members of Congress in a few weeks and this Fall to ensure the conference committee adopts the Senate language in ECAA (Title II, Part E, Section 2005)...that would allow states to develop STEM programs."

Work has officially begun on the conference bill to resolve the differences in the House (H.R. 5, the Student Success Act) and Senate (S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015) bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replace No Child Left Behind.

In a press statement issued on Thursday, July 30, the four education leaders in the House and Senate [House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN); Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA); Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN); and Senate Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA);] issued statements which expressed confidence and expressed hope that they can work together to produce a bicameral education bill.

As noted in an earlier NSTA Legislative blog post, on July 16 the U.S. Senate passed legislation to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act. The bipartisan Senate bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177) passed 81-17 and contains a strong focus on STEM education. The partisan House bill, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), passed on July 8, with 27 Republicans joining all House Democrats voting against the bill. The House bill goes much further than the Senate bill in reducing the federal role in education and does not include a dedicated program for STEM education.

Below are the key STEM provision in the Senate bill and other highlights from the House and Senate education bills. Congress adjourns at the end of July until after the Labor Day break (but education staff will continue to move the conference process along) so STEM education advocates will be strongly encouraged to reach out to targeted members of Congress in a few weeks and this Fall to ensure the conference committee adopts the Senate language in ECAA (Title II, Part E, Section 2005) listed below that would allow states to develop STEM programs.

Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177) STEM Funding Provision (Title II, Part E, Section 2005)

Section 2005, which was added in a bipartisan Franken-Kirk Amendment during Committee consideration, establishes a program to provide each state with formula-based funding that would be used to support partnerships among local schools, businesses, universities, and non-profit organizations to improve student learning in the critical 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. Activities supported through these funds include:

  • Professional development for STEM educators
  • Improving access and quality for STEM programs targeting high-need and underrepresented student populations
  • Integrating in-school and out-of-school STEM education activities
  • Supporting STEM-related competitions
  • Facilitating the involvement of mid-career STEM professionals in educational activities
  • Recruiting, retaining, and rewarding outstanding STEM educators through state-level STEM Master Teacher Corps programs

A funding level has not yet been established for this provision and is currently “such sums as required.” The funding authorization level for the current Math and Science Partnerships program at the Department of Education, which this provision would replace, is $450 million per year; however the appropriations for this program in FY2015 is $155 million.

Here are some other key highlights from the House and Senate passed education bills:

Testing and Standards: Both bills maintain current-law requirements for annual, statewide assessment of all students in grades 3­–8 and at least once in high school, in both reading and math, as well as the requirement of a science assessment of all students in science at least once during elementary, middle, and high school. The bills also maintain the requirement that states adopt college- and career-ready standards in these subjects.  

Accountability: Both bills eliminate NCLB’s adequate yearly progress requirements and require states to create their own accountability systems that annually measure student performance. The Senate bill goes further to require that state accountability systems include more than just test scores and also requires that states report how they assess school climate, discipline, homeless children, and early education. The House bill moves in the other direction and provides states with the option of not counting students that “opt-out” of federal testing against measures of test participation.

STEM Education: The Senate bill contains a program (Section 2005; see above) that would provide each state with dedicated funding to support improvements in the STEM subjects, with a strong focus on improving access and quality for high-need student populations. The House bill does not place any priority on STEM-related activities or provide any form of dedicated funding for STEM activities.  

Support for Teachers and Teacher Quality: Both the House and Senate bills provide states with significant new flexibility in using Title II funds for teachers and school leaders. Both bills allow states to use federal funding to develop teacher evaluation systems, but it’s not a requirement. And the bills eliminate the definition of “highly qualified teacher” and instead let states decide what constitutes teacher quality.

Low-Performing Schools: Both bills eliminate the School Improvement Grant program, but include other federal funding directed at low-performing schools. Under the House bill, states would set aside 7% of their own Title I money for school improvement. States would have to intervene in Title I schools that aren’t performing well, but the bill doesn’t tell them how to do so, or how many schools to try to fix at a time.   Under the Senate bill, states would have to monitor district turnarounds, and step in if low-performing schools weren’t getting any better. However, the federal government would be prohibited from telling states or districts how to fix struggling schools.

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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