DC Shuttle: Congress to Update No Child Left Behind?

On Tuesday, the House voted 365-54 to pass the latest in a series of bills to update the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law. This latest legislation (H.R. 2218) aims to establish more charter schools in order to increase student achievement around the country. Currently, the national charter school program provides funding for states to establish new charter schools. H.R. 2218 would provide $300 million annually for the next five fiscal years and would focus efforts on reproducing and expanding charter school models which proved successful at increasing student achievement. The charter schools bill is also the only one of the Education and Workforce Committee’s three NCLB bills to receive wide Democratic support. An amendment added to the legislation last week would help ensure that charter schools take parent and community concerns into consideration. The next step would be a Senate vote, but Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) has made it clear that he plans to address the reauthorization of NCLB in one comprehensive bill and not piecemeal.

Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) released a legislative package on Wednesday to update portions of the NCLB law. The initiative is being spearheaded by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), former secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush. Their efforts are entirely separate from those of HELP Committee Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Chair Harkin, and more closely resemble the piecemeal approach of House Republicans. Sen. Alexander stressed that he still hopes for talks to result in comprehensive, bipartisan legislation, and the efforts that he is spearheading represent an alternative track to move the education reform discussion. One bill mirrors the one passed by the House on Tuesday, to encourage the replication of successful charter school models. Another bill would collapse 59 education programs into two block grants: one for the “improvement of teaching and learning” and one to promote “safe and healthy students.” A third bill would also target the training and recruiting of effective educators, and allow states to establish their own teacher evaluation systems. The Elementary and Secondary Education Amendments Act would not completely rewrite the NCLB version of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Sen. Alexander said that he wants to retain the law’s student achievement reporting requirements, but with benchmarks set by the states and local school districts rather than the U.S. Education Department. This bill would also impose “college- and career-readiness” goals for students. Sen. Alexander also introduced a bill (S. 1568) on Thursday to prevent the Education Department from granting waivers from NCLB benchmarks in exchange for states implementing Administration-approved reforms.

From the New England Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, Sept. 19, 2011. NEBHE is a member of the Council and publishes this column each week.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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