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Committee Votes Unanimously to Send Bipartisan Compromise on Overhauling NCLB to Full Senate

April 23, 2015

On April 16, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) – chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) – praised the work of the committee in acting on the bipartisan agreement to fix No Child Left Behind. After three days of amendment and debate, the committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the full Senate.

Alexander said: “If senators were students in a classroom, none of us would expect to receive a passing grade for unfinished work. Seven years is long enough to consider how to fix No Child Left Behind. The committee considered 57 amendments, approved 29, and improved the bipartisan agreement Ranking Member Murray and I reached – but the consensus that the committee found is the same that Senator Murray and I found. That consensus is this: Continue the law’s important measurements of academic progress of students but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement.

“I thank Ranking Member Murray for her hard work and her commitment to getting a result, and I look forward to working with her as this moves to the Senate floor. Now the bill is ready to be taken up by the full Senate with the same opportunity for amendment, discussion, and debate.”

In early February, Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced a bipartisan agreement on fixing “No Child Left Behind.” The senators’ legislative agreement, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the chief law governing the federal role in K-12 education. The most recent reauthorization of ESEA was the “No Child Left Behind Act,” which was enacted in 2001 and expired in 2007.

Click here to read Senator Alexander’s opening statement at the start of Tuesday’s committee action on the agreement.

The National School Boards Association greeted approval of the compromise bill by Alexander and Murray by the committee on April 16, saying:

By unanimous vote, the Senate HELP Committee reported out the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), as amended. The three-day mark-up of the Senate’s legislation to modernize and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) allowed committee members to consider and debate more than 50 amendments, with 29 adopted, 8 defeated, and 20 withdrawn.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) encouraged a ‘yes’ vote on ECAA due to its bipartisan approach and “because the process was fair,” stating that “if you like the fact that we have the Department of Education running schools through waivers in 42 states, vote no.” Moments later, the Committee’s final vote was 22 to 0.

“Today marks a great victory for local and community leadership in public education,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association. “Though there is much more work to be done, today’s powerful vote demonstrates that we are one step closer to rewriting the broken No Child Left Behind Act and modernizing ESEA.”

Selected highlights from this week’s mark-up of interest to local school board members include:

  1. A voucher amendment withdrawn, but expected to be discussed during the Senate’s floor debate on the bill (Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.)
  2. Grants to states to improve the quality and reliability of state assessments (Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.)
  3. An amendment to improve data collection methods and systems, intended to reduce the burden on school districts (Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.)
  4. A change of the funding formula ratio, to 80 percent poverty, 20 percent population, regarding funding for high-quality teachers, principals and other school leaders (Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.)

Some of the more contentious amendments – a voucher amendment introduced by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and an anti-bullying measure introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) – were withdrawn, and are expected to resurface on the Senate floor.

While the Senate bill is “imperfect,” according to Gentzel, “it is something NSBA and our strong base of public school advocates can work to perfect moving forward.” Gentzel also noted that NSBA is prepared to remain steadfast in its opposition to privatization – vouchers, tuition tax credits, and non-locally authorized charters.

While the Senate HELP Committee action is another big step in the legislative process, Senators must agree to move ECAA to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote. Also still on the horizon is the House version (H.R. 5) which has been debated on the House Floor, with no final votes yet taken.

Sources:  Office of Sen. Lamar Alexander, National School Boards Association.