House Panel Passes Two K-12 Education Reform Bills

On February 28, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved two pieces of legislation to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The “Student Success Act” (H.R. 3989) and the “Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act” (H.R. 3990) were both approved by a party line vote of 23 Republicans to 16 Democrats.

The “Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act” includes earlier legislation (H.R. 1891) that would eliminate more than 70 Department of Education programs including Teaching American History grants.

H.R. 3990 would consolidate a host of existing K-12 education programs into new “Local Academic Flexible Grants.” This program would provide block grants to state educational agencies and subgrants to local educational agencies to fund programs to improve student performance, improve teacher effectiveness and provide for professional development. State and local education agencies would have greater flexibility in determining how and where the funds are spent than under existing law.

By the same 16-23 party line vote, the Committee defeated a substitute amendment to H.R. 3990, offered by Ranking Minority Member George Miller (D-Calif.).

Miller’s amendment included a new “Well-Rounded Education” fund that would have been authorized at a level of $500 million in fiscal year 2013. The amendment would have provided funding for State and local educational agencies, or educational service agencies in partnership with Institutes of Higher Education, nonprofit organizations, libraries, or museums to compete for grants in a variety of subject matter areas. Forty-five percent of the funds, or $225 million, would have been reserved for American History programs, Civic Education programs, and Geography programs. Grant funds could be used for professional development, curriculum, assessments, and other academic improvement programs.

Given the lack of bi-partisan support for the two bills, they may pass the House but would be dead on arrival in the Senate. Senator Tom Harkin’s ESEA reform bill passed the Senate Labor, Health, Education and Pensions (HELP) Committee last fall. However Chairman Harkin has not taken his bill to the Senate floor and has indicated he will wait for the House to act first. It is likely that lawmakers will remain stalemated on ESEA reform for the remainder of this Congress, especially given the fact that it a presidential election year. Therefore, it is likely ESEA reform will be left for a new Congress, and perhaps a new President, to address.

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