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Senate HELP Committee passes ESEA bill

By Sarah Keller

Markup and discussion of legislation to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) began on June 11 in the Senate Help, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.  ESEA was last reauthorized in 2002 and Congress has attempted to reauthorize it since 2007.  HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D- IA) introduced the latest incarnation of the statute, Strengthening America's Schools Act (SASA), last week with the support of all committee Democrats.  Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced his own version of the statute last week, Every Child Ready for College or Career, which was also debated during the markup.
The markup began with opening statements by Sens. Harkin and Alexander.  While both expressed a desire to come together on a bipartisan bill, the ideological differences on the role the federal government should play in education eventually proved to be too big.  During his opening statement Sen. Harkin stressed the need for a partnership between federal, state and local governments.  In addition, he talked about how SASA maintains requirements many states currently have through ESEA waivers.  Sen. Alexander used his opening statement to discuss his vision of states being free from the mandates in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the current version of ESEA.  He believes that Sen. Harkin’s bill continues those mandates, creating a “national school board,” which he adamantly opposes.  Sen. Alexander also noted that the divergent views on the federal government’s role in education is reflected in the size of the two bills: Sen. Harkin’s bill is 1150 pages, compared to Sen. Alexander’s 220 page bill.  The debate over the federal government’s role in education continued while discussing Sen. Alexander’s substitute bill amendment.  After considerable discussion between senators of both parties, Sen. Alexander’s bill amendment failed by a party line vote of 10-12.
From the afterschool perspective, Sen. Kay Hagan’s (D-NC) amendment to include increased learning time as part of 2 of the 4 school turnaround models would codify existing Department of Education policy.  While speaking in support of the amendment Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) noted that increased learning time can include a partnership with high quality afterschool programs.  Sen. Alexander argued that increased learning time is only useful if the underlying schools, teachers and support staff are quality educators. The amendment passed by a voice vote with no audible objections. This previous blog includes more on the impact of the bill on afterschool programs.
At the conclusion of the markup, Chairman Harkin reiterated his hope that the bill would move to the Senate floor for debate. He and Sen. Alexander said that they would like the bill to receive a full debate from the Senate and be subject to an open and inclusive amendment process on the floor.
Of the 40 amendments that had been filed before the two-day proceedings, 10 were adopted—nine from Democrats and one from a Republican. Of course, the partisan vote on the final bill conveys the philosophical differences between the parties on the federal role in K-12 education. The House Education and the Workforce Committee is expected to mark up their ESEA reauthorization bill later this month.
There's still time for friends of afterschool to email representatives and senators to emphasize the value and importance of afterschool and summer learning programs through June as the education committees discuss ESEA.
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learn more about: Congress ESEA Legislation