DC Shuttle: Harkin Proposes Student Accountability Systems

ESEA reauthorization approved by committee. At a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) markup on Tuesday, lawmakers considered the Senate Democrats’ proposal, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A bill (S. 1094) introduced by Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) advanced by a party-line vote of 12-10 despite opposition from Republicans who are weary of creating a “national school board” and placing too much power in the hands of the federal government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) promised to bring the bill to the floor once the calendar permits. The reauthorization of ESEA is now six years overdue. With attempts to overhaul the massive K-12 federal education law having failed to gain approval in Congress, 37 states (as well as the District of Columbia) have been approved by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for waivers that exempt them from honoring exigent requirements instituted under the last reauthorization, No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). While these waivers have provided states with much-needed flexibility, they are often viewed as being an informal, temporary arrangement that is not a substitute for new legislation. Harkin’s bill signals a departure from an unpopular provision in NCLB that requires states to develop an accountability system, called Adequate Yearly Progress, to ensure that all students are proficient in math and reading by 2014. Instead, school districts would have more flexibility to create personalized student accountability systems and emphasizes increasing “access and equity”‘ among students. Additionally, the bill would require evaluation systems for teachers and principals and interventions to assist failing schools. Harkin’s bill also reconstructs the model for school funding by ensuring that local and state resources per student for Title I schools are equal to or greater than the average local and state funds per student in non-Title I schools. Committee members passed an amendment offered by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), which would require the Education Department to establish a model demonstration program to explore the effectiveness of programs that increase students’ access to postsecondary education. Led by Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Republicans have introduced their own version, the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act, which includes proposals that will likely gain support in the House. “Our goal is to move forward with competing discussions, move the bill to the floor in whatever form it comes out of committee,” Alexander said Wednesday.

Senate and House reject student loan interest rate bills. With student-loan interest rates set to double from 3.4% to 6.8% on July 1, lawmakers are pushing for the adoption of different proposals which would stop the rate hike but have not come to agreement on an approach. On Thursday, the Senate declined to consider legislation (S. 953) introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) which would keep the rate constant for two years, giving Congress time to negotiate a permanent solution. Identical legislation (H.R. 1595) introduced in the House by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) hasn’t moved out of the Education and the Workforce Committee but Democrats have petitioned for its consideration. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who objected to consideration of the bill in the Senate, has introduced legislation (S. 1003) that would tie rates to the Treasury note rate plus 3%. That structure is similar to the president’s proposal. The administration’s proposal would tie student loan interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note and add 0.93 percent for the subsidized portion of the loan, 2.93% for the unsubsidized portion and 3.93% for graduate loans. Coburn said he would work with Reed to bring the president’s proposal to the floor for consideration. On May 23, the House passed a GOP bill (H.R. 1911) that would peg the interest rate to the 10-year Treasury note rate, plus 2.5% for the subsidized and unsubsidized portion of the Stafford loan and plus 4.5% for graduate loans. Those rates would be capped at 8.5% and 10.5%, respectively, and would be calculated annually.

As a member of New England Council, we publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington. This edition is drawn from the Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, of June 17, 2013.

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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