Sen. Harkin Announces Markup of ESEA Reauthorization Bill

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee this week announced it would markup a bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) on October 18. Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-IA), the committee chairman, and Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY) the ranking Republican have been engaged in negotiations since early this year in crafting the bill.

While the legislation has yet to be introduced, according to Education Week, it will be a comprehensive bill. House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R-MN) has taken the opposite approach passing a series of smaller bills targeted at specific issues and sections of the ESEA. For example, his committee earlier this year approved H.R. 1891 the “Setting New Priorities in Education Act.” This bill would eliminate 43 programs at the Department of Education including Teaching American History (TAH) grants.

In a statement, Sen. Harkin said: “The legislation that I will bring before the HELP Committee reflects two years of bipartisan hearings, discussions, and negotiations and almost a decade of learning from teachers and parents about the strengths and weaknesses of the No Child Left Behind Act. Our bill will take important steps to advance the state, local and federal partnership that is needed to improve educational equity and ensure all students graduate from high school prepared for success in college and careers.”

Despite the apparent bi-partisan support of Harkin and Enzi, restless Republicans in the Senate have moved forward introducing targeted bills, much like the approach taken in the House.

For example, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) recently introduced the “Empowering Local Educational Decision Making Act of 2011” (S. 1569). The bill streamlines 59 programs into 2 flexible foundational block grants – the Fund for the Improvement of Teaching and Learning and the Safe and Healthy Students Block Grant. The Fund for the Improvement of Teaching and Learning consolidates 34 programs into one flexible, formula-driven program to fund locally-determined needs and initiatives. This would result in the elimination of targeted programs such as Teaching American History grants.

It remains to be seen in the current hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington whether ESEA reform, either in comprehensive or piecemeal form, can be enacted especially in a presidential election year.