For three hours yesterday afternoon, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) met to debate and offer amendments to the Every Child Achieves Act—a bipartisan compromise to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The ESEA is the major federal K-12 education-funding bill that was last amended in 2002 as the No Child Left Behind Act. Here’s a quick rundown of where things stand after yesterday’s markup:
1. Votes on Data Transparency & School Accountability Held for the Floor
Yesterday, we talked about the need to strengthen accountability and transparency in the proposed bill. Two amendments were offered that would have gone a long way toward adding those measures to the bill. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) offered an amendment that would require states to intervene in schools where one or more subgroups of disadvantaged students fail to meet benchmarks and to offer supports to those students; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) offered an amendment that would require schools to report student data in a way that would allow educators and communities to understand how students who fall into more than one category are doing—for example, instead of just seeing how girls are doing, or African American students, or students with disabilities, there would be cross-sectional data reported by race and gender or disability together. Both of these amendments were withdrawn before a Committee vote, which means the full Senate will have a chance to vote on these measures if the bill is reported out of Committee and advances to the floor for a full Senate vote.
Other examples of positive amendments offered and withdrawn for a floor vote:
- An amendment from Sen. Murphy requiring educational resources to be equitably distributed among poor and more affluent school districts;
- An amendment from Sen. Mark Bennet (D-Colo.) that would close the “comparability loophole;” and
- An amendment from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to ensure educational stability for children in foster care.
2. Title I Portability Reared Its Ugly Head
A handful of amendments were offered to undermine ESEA’s goals of ensuring educational opportunity for disadvantaged children. Sen. Tim Scott (R-N.C.) offered and withdrew a portability provision, which would allow federal funds targeted to the most vulnerable students to be reallocated for other uses. This would create a reverse Robin Hood situation where the nation’s poorest school districts would lose more than $675 million, while the most affluent school districts would get $440 million. Obviously, this amendment would subvert the goals of ESEA if adopted, and we expect debate on this amendment to be hotly contested on the floor.
3. The Committee Approved Seven Amendments
An amendment from Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) on reducing unnecessary tests that are not part of the federally required annual statewide assessments;
- An amendment from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) allowing a program in for school districts to pilot innovative local assessments that can be scaled up and implemented at the state level;
- An amendment from Sen. Franken allowing states to administer computer-adaptive testing to allow assessments to measure students performing above or below grade level;
- An amendment from Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) affirming parental opt-out rights on tests;
- An amendment from Sen. Bennet requiring states to evaluate and upgrade their data reporting systems;
- An amendment from Sen. Baldwin improving reporting on career and technical education; and
- An amendment from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) requiring data reporting on students from military families.
Committee mark-up will continue today and is expected to wrap up by the end of the week.