Last week, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and House Republicans introduced three different bills that would revise, reform, and restructure the federal government's role in K–12 education. All three bills would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The last reauthorization of ESEA occurred in 2001, resulting in the No Child Left Behind Act.
The first bill was introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP). This massive 1,150 page bill titled the Strengthening America's Schools Act of 2013 was drafted with input from Senator Harkin's HELP Committee Democrat colleagues.
The second bill was introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Ranking Minority Member of the Senate HELP Committee. This modest bill of 220 pages named Every Child Ready for College or Career Act was drafted with input from Senator Alexander's HELP Committee Republican colleagues.
The third bill, the Student Success Act, was introduced by Congressman John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN), Chairman of the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Subcommittee. Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee are expected to introduce a "substitute" bill during the House Education and the Workforce's markup of the Student Success Act, currently scheduled for June 19, 2013. Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, has stated that he will put that bill on the floor sometime in July before the House adjourns for its summer break in August.
Reflecting the ideologies of their parties, both the House and Senate Republican bills would limit the federal government's role in education by eliminating many smaller education programs, not reauthorizing President Obama's signature education programs-such as Race to the Top and the Teacher Incentive Fund-and grant states much greater authority in setting testing standards. While neither bill includes voucher provisions, amendments to include them can be expected if either bill makes it to the floor of their respective chambers.
The Senate HELP Committee will consider the Strengthening America's Schools Act on June 11, 2013, where Senator Alexander is expected to offer his bill as a substitute amendment. That effort is expected because Democrats make up the majority on the Committee. Due to the complex rules of the Senate, it is unclear if Senator Harkin's bill will be reported out of the HELP Committee and considered in the Senate any time in the near future. Most ESEA watchers predict that, unless there is willingness to compromise in the House and Senate, Congress will fail to reauthorize ESEA.
For more information, please contact Neil Snyder, ASHA's director of federal advocacy, at email@example.com or at 800-498-2071, ext. 5614.