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A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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ESEA Reauthorization: Is Bipartisanship Possible?

Published:  January 9, 2012

Last week the National Journal Education Experts blog asked whether Republicans and Democrats could possibly come together to fix the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Reauthorization is now five years overdue. Both the House and Senate education committees have introduced proposals – divergent in several key ways. Will these proposals gain enough support from lawmakers to move forward?

House Education and Workforce Committee chairman John Kline (R-MN) has introduced a package of five bills. Only one – on charter schools – has bipartisan support. The others – on funding flexibility, accountability and teacher quality – were introduced with no support from the committee’s Democrats led by Rep. George Miller (D-CA).

Last fall, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, found some compromise with committee Republicans, at least enough to vote a comprehensive ESEA bill out of the committee, but the bill has yet to reach the Senate floor for debate. If and when it does, Senate Republicans have already made it clear they will not continue to support it in its current form.

The National Journal asked:

Is something better than nothing? Or must any action on an education reauthorization be bipartisan? Could the forthcoming discussion be useful, even if disagreements make it impossible to complete the legislation this year? Does a partisan approach damage the broader debate. If so, how?

I think reauthorization is unlikely unless it’s bipartisan and it needs to be done right. Here are some snippets from my full post, available here.

“While ESEA reauthorization is long overdue, I don’t agree that something is better than nothing, nor do I think the President would sign just any bill. What is in the bill definitely matters. The House Education and Workforce committee’s proposal to give states more flexibility with federal dollars, for example, would need some serious revision to move forward in the Senate. It dilutes federal funds that support high-need kids by allowing districts to combine funds from several programs and use them as they see fit, possibly to the detriment of certain students.”

Other revisions should help to strengthen early education: “More lawmakers need to start thinking about education as a coherent system from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade if they want to ensure more children are ready for kindergarten, reading by the end of third grade and on the path to graduate from high school ready for college and career.”

Don’t miss our special page on Early Learning in ESEA, where you’ll find more blog posts on the legislation, as well as issue briefs and recommendations from the Early Education Initiative and other groups.

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