Sources: House and Senate Negotiators Have Reached Preliminary ESEA Deal

UPDATED

Christmas seems to have come early this year for education advocates. After weeks of long and hard negotiations, House and Senate lawmakers have reached preliminary agreement on a bill for the long-stalled re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, multiple sources say.

The agreement will set the stage for an official conference committee, which would likely kick off next week. The legislation could be on the floor of the House and Senate by the end of this month, or early next, sources say. (Nothing set in stone on timing just yet.) 

So far, the word isn’t official. Neither the House nor the Senate education committee has confirmed.

No hard-and-fast details available yet, although those are likely to trickle out in coming days. But if I were a betting woman, I’d put money down that there will be some language asking states to intervene in the bottom five percent of their schools, and schools with high drop-out rates.

No provision for so-called Title I “portability,” smart money says. (School choice fans might have something to cheer about anyway). And many smaller programs may have been rolled into a big giant block grant, according to folks familiar with earlier drafts of the proposal.

Sources familiar with previous versions of the agreement also say the odds are good that a new program for early childhood education made it into the compromise.

Some of the biggest sticking points towards the end of negotiations were said to be secretarial authority, authorizations, and accountability. So where did things end up?

We’ll find out soon enough for sure.

But the accountability provisions in earlier drafts were said to be pretty complicated, which makes sense, given the nature of bipartisan compromise.

“Based on what I’ve seen, for the next Secretary, interpreting the new law will be like looking at a Rorschach with one eye closed and with both hands tied behind their back,” said Charlie Barone, the policy director at Democrats for Education Reform, who served as an aide to Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House education committee, when NCLB was written.

But that complexity could actually be a boon to state and local control, especially since the compromise includes nearly all of the restrictions on the Secretary’s authority that were in the House and Senate versions.

“The complexity helps,” said a GOP aide. The agreement “leaves a lot of this to states to figure out and the secretary’s ability to interfere with those state decisions is astonishingly limited.”

UPDATE [Nov. 13, 10:20 am] Overall, everyone walked out of negotiations with his or her biggest priority intact, the aide said. “Everybody has a lot to be happy about,” said a GOP aide who participated in the negotiations.

  • Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., got her early childhood education program, which the Obama administration also really wanted, plus some additional accountability, including on subgroups.
  • Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, got many programs placed into a block grant.
  • Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate committee, got limitations on secretarial authority. That includes new limits on teacher evaluations, turnarounds, tests, you name it.
  • And Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., got some beefed-up subgroup language, which Murray also fought very hard for. The administration also wanted to see some subgroup accountability.

So what’s in the bill?  To read the entire article, click here.

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