Now that there is a new majority in DC, there is a renewed focus on getting done that which has languished for a few years with the Democratic majority in the Senate. One of those to-do’s is the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). There is buzz coming from the House and Senate Education Committees that this is a to-do they are prepared to jump on. There is an assumption that this is going to be a welcome change for the people back home. Me thinks they are a bit overly optimistic in this assumption.

We have heard the rumors and now ABC News has reported that both Representative Kline (R-Minnesota) and Senator Alexander (R- Tennessee) want to move ahead with the renewal of ESEA. The latest iteration of ESEA, the now unpopular No Child Left Behind, expired almost seven years ago. The country has been operating as if that were still in effect and the USDoED has been granting states waivers from its requirements to perpetuate its effect.

The waivers are becoming outright power grabs by the USDoED.  The latest waiver guidelines for Title I–Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged come right out and say,

The Secretary will amend the regulations governing title I, part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (ESEA), to phase out the authority of States to define modified academic achievement standards and develop alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards in order to satisfy ESEA accountability requirements.

The USDoED plans to phase out states’ authority to determine what is appropriate education for students with IEPs. Given that their vision is for all students to have an IEP to determine their “college and career readiness” path, this phasing out of states’ authority could soon expand to all education decisions.

Kline, Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, told ABC that the big question is whether the President would sign anything passed by both chambers. “He can either join with us and replace the law, or he can fight, and I would love to hear his explanation for why he thinks it’s better to be in the waiver business, which has schools, districts and states across the country confused and not knowing what the next step is,” Kline said.

That statement is frightening in its basic premise, that states are waiting to be told by the federal government what to do with education. The U.S. legislature has a terrible track record when it comes to education (School to Work, Goals 2000, NLCB) but they still can’t seem to stomach the idea of a full scale repeal of bad legislation. Kline’s answer is to develop a new list of to-do’s (HR5) so the states get the direction they are waiting for rather than returning control for education decisions to the states.

Alexander, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee was even more worrisome in his statement. “We’ll work with Secretary Duncan and the president in hopes we can persuade them that what we want to do is also what they want to do.” If you look at the blueprint that the USDoED put out in 2010 you can see what the President wants to do. The Senate version of a revised ESEA was pretty much a match to the blueprint. There is no way that conservatives want to do any of that. The only way for Alexander’s vision to come true is if conservatives change what they want. Don’t look for the grassroots to be your cheering squad Senator.

The Student Success Act HR5, from Kline’s Education and Workforce Committee, was passed by the House in August 2013 and has sat untouched since then. There is an attempt in the bill to return control to the states for education, however, to the extent that it continues to acknowledge any power by the USDoED to dictate or approve state actions on education it will not enjoy the widespread support among conservatives that Kline envisions. Look for more public reaction to the proposed Congressional action to come soon.


Posted December 1, 2015


Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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