On Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 15-7 to advance legislation to replace the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal education law, with three Republicans joining Democrats in support of the bill. The legislation would replace NCLB’s requirement that all students achieve proficiency in math and reading by 2014 with a mandate that states adopt “college- and career-ready” standards and accountability systems in exchange for federal education funding. Bill sponsor and HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) noted that “both sides agree that we’d rather do it here than have waivers by the administration.” After several objections to a provision tying teacher evaluations to student outcomes, the legislation was changed to allow local education agencies relative freedom over how and if they evaluate their teachers. The bill also includes a provision removing states’ option to use a turnaround strategy of their own choosing to reform failing schools, rather than one of those specified by the NCLB law. An amendment proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) would allow states to select a different strategy with approval from the secretary of education. The amendment was adopted 15-7, over misgivings from Sen. Harkin that it would allow states to proceed without making real reforms to improve their lowest-performing 5% of schools. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) ultimately withdrew his amendment which would have required any Improving Secondary Schools grants to include job-based activities like internships and apprenticeships. Sen. Harkin said that he plans to include similar language in the manager’s amendment which will result from further debate when the bill reaches the Senate floor. Thursday’s vote followed a two-day markup during which the bill was briefly held up over concerns that committee members had not had sufficient time to review the legislation. A Nov. 8 hearing will provide additional opportunity to discuss the bill’s more divisive issues. Sen. Harkin added that he believes House leadership will move quickly if the Senate is able to pass bipartisan education reform, and hopes to have the bill ready for Senate debate before Thanksgiving. Read the draft of the NCLB reform legislation as submitted to the HELP Committee on Oct. 17.
From the New England Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, Oct. 24, 2011. NEBHE is a member of the Council and publishes this column each week.
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