Two weeks ago, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce reported out two of Chairman John Kline’s ESEA reauthorization bills, the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teaching Act, on a party-line vote, 23-16. Democrats, led by Ranking Member George Miller, offered just two (unsuccessful) amendments, both substitute bills. These would have required states to maintain achievement targets for student subgroups as part of accountability systems – a major issue for civil rights’ groups opposed to Kline’s bills. On the teacher side, Miller proposed that states would have a greater role in designing evaluation systems, unlike the Kline bill where districts have control.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education received second-round ESEA waiver applications from 27 states (including DC). A team of peer reviewers will be combing through the requests and, just like the first round, a back-and-forth process between the Department and each state will ensue until (I imagine) most waivers are approved. Just as interesting to watch will be California, where the State Board of Education is still considering requesting its own special waiver, with far fewer strings attached.
So how does this change the prospects for ESEA reauthorization?
Both Senate and House committees have completed legislation to reauthorize ESEA – only five years behind schedule. Should this be a moment for cheering, hugging, and speeches in front of comically-large banners? Not so fast. No Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been enacted without bipartisan support.
Consider the current proposals: the House bills are a strictly-partisan affair, while the Senate version is only bipartisan in the sense that neither Republicans nor Democrats like it very much. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin has said he will not push his bill to the floor until the House passes a bipartisan bill (which clearly isn’t happening), and although Kline has contacted the Majority Leader’s office about scheduling votes on his legislation, that hasn’t happened yet either. Even though there are three reauthorization choices (four, if you count the Miller substitutes), the only one getting any serious traction – and by traction, I mean actually happening anytime soon – is the administration’s flexibility via waivers option.
Since our brains over here at Ed Sector are stuck on March Madness and assume yours are too, we wanted to engage in a little ESEA bracketology of our own:
Waivers (#1 Seed): They started strong at 11-0 and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be 38-0 after the 27 new state applications are reviewed. They’re the only team coming into the tournament with momentum.
Kline (#2 seed): Both bills could pass the House on a party-line vote if they’re taken seriously enough to get on the calendar, but even champions of small conferences are often no match for executive power-houses.
Miller (#4 seed): It was killed in committee and would be overmatched on the House floor. Sure, it’s got decent fundamentals and a coach who knows how to motivate, but that’s about it.
Harkin-Enzi (#3 seed): This has the potential to be a dark horse. But its performance has been inconsistent all season. Who knows what we’d get on the Senate floor – if the bill even makes it there. Besides, for Senate Democrats this isn’t like choosing between Duke and UNC –even if it were to eke out an early win, it’s not hard to believe that Harkin-Enzi fans would abandon it for the waiver bandwagon after a bloody, messy floor fight.
For now, the waiver plan really is the only action worth watching… that isn’t played on a basketball court. Now, get back to filling out your bracket for your office pool.
(Given how exciting I claim the new waivers are, you might be wondering why I haven’t talked more about them. Full disclosure: I haven’t read them yet. They’re long — averaging 388 pages and totaling over 10,000 — and frankly, mind-numbing. US Department of Education, please upload all future waiver documents in a word-searchable format. Until we have the time to read them, Education Sector intern Scott Baumgartner and I leave you with this lovely chart – comparing the top three prospects to current law – to help you sort through the madness.)