Public opinion polls indicate that elected
officials in Washington, D.C., are not doing much of anything these days except
to agreeing to disagree, and not coming to closure on most of the critical
policy issues facing the nation. However, the Senate Committee on Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions did agree in late October on legislation to
reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (aka No Child
Many inside the Beltway believe this action was
taken by the committee as a reaction to the state education waiver effort by
the Obama Administration. Even though there is authority for the Secretary to
issue waivers in the No Child Left Behind Act, many Republicans and even some
Democrats are concerned that the waiver requirements is an agency legislating
This was a result of hard work by both
Democratic and Republican committee staff, and negotiations and compromise by
the committee’s leadership, Senator Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Senator Michael Enzi
(Wyo.) along with other committee members including Senators Lamar Alexander
(Tenn.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Al Franken (Minn.) and Jeff Bingaman
(N.M.). There was a good deal of give and take to come up with a bill, but
Senator Enzi is receiving heat from many of his Republican colleagues for this
effort to come up with a bill.
In the end, the bipartisan bill was marked-up
and voted out of committee on October 20, by a vote of 15-7, which included three
Republicans voting with the Democrats. Not everyone is happy with the product. Many
civil rights and education groups believe states and local districts were given
too much flexibility in determining accountability, and any effort to improve,
strengthen and encourage teacher evaluation was diluted. Others are quite
A few of the more significant amendments in the
- Senator Alexander’s amendment to add a 7th school
improvement strategy for Persistently Low Achieving Schools. This option would allow schools to choose a state-designated
improvement model, which would have to be approved by the U.S. Secretary of
- Senator Franken’s amendment to allow computer-based adaptive
testing in state accountability systems. Under NCLB, students
could only be tested on grade-level material, so it was impossible to use
state tests to know whether students were performing multiple grade levels
ahead or behind of where they should be.
- Senator Burr’s Title II funding equity amendment. Even though there was
significant reluctance by Chair Harkin to get into a fight over funding
formulas, which always pits Senators against one another and there are
clear winners and losers, Senator Burr convinced the Committee to strip
language guaranteeing states could get no less Title II formula funds than
they did in 2001. Title II formula funding that has typically supported
professional development and class size reduction, now will be mostly
distributed based on the number of poor children in the state under the
Senate bill’s language. It seems that small states will lose out here. Of
course, Title II is not as large a pot of money as Title I, but the issue
is worth following.
- Multiple principal focused amendments. Senator Hagan’s
amendment ensured new principals hired as part of any school improvement
strategy have a record of improving student achievement or have participated
in specialized training. Senator Franken added language for a competitive
grant for principal training and development. And Senators Bennet and
Alexander added additional language from the GREAT Act, creating Teacher
and Principal Academies evaluated and funded based on graduates’ results
in improving student performance.
- Senator Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) amendment for
highly qualified teachers in rural schools. This amendment allows rural schools to fulfill the highly
qualified teacher requirements through distance learning and team teaching.
Highly qualified teachers would work together with teachers who do not fulfill
the requirement and could do so via the web.
- Senator Bingaman’s amendment to restore the
educational technology grant program. This reauthorizes an educational technology grant program,
including language that ensures students have access to technology in schools,
but are protected from any obscene content. It also makes it a competitive
program if appropriations for the program fall short.
On November 8, the Committee held a two-hour
hearing after the mark-up at the request of Senator Rand Paul (Ky.). Chairman
Harkin agreed to the hearing. A variety of views were expressed about the bill
from various sectors of the education community. Each of the witnesses had some
recommendations to improve on the current bill (not the current law), and they
varied from requirements of comparability to determining a highly qualified
teacher; from the assessment of special education students to setting of
targets and standards by states; and from weakening accountability requirements
to too many requirements in turning around schools. Several suggestions made
during the hearing are now under review by the committee and its staff, and
possibly there will be some floor amendments when the bill goes to the Senate
for a vote.
happens next or what can we expect?
The bill now goes to go to the Senate floor. Unfortunately,
there are few if any openings on the Senate’s calendar during the current
session to address the legislation nor is it likely that the Senate leadership will
make an effort to find time. One can only hope the bill finds a way onto the
calendar at the beginning of the second session of the 112th Congress, which begins in January 2012.
As for the House, negotiations continue between
Democratic and Republican committee staff to try to work out a final bill,
which will include everything not already addressed in bills already passed by
the House Committee on Education and the Workforce chaired by John Kline (Minn.).
Don’t expect too much but there may be a surprise at the beginning of 2012.
The big question is: Can both houses vote on
legislation and have a conference on the two distinct bills prior to the 2012 presidential
campaign going into full swing?
Deficit Reduction Effort
Members on both sides (Democrats
and Republicans) of the Joint Select Committee on
Deficit Reduction (Super Committee) are deadlocked
on entitlements and taxes. For many there is no excuse for failing to agree on
any spending cuts whatsoever. If the super committee couldn’t find a way to “go
big,” the very least it could do was “go small.” There are hundreds of billions
in cuts that Democrats and Republicans could find without cutting entitlements
or raising taxes. Failure to do so will make this one of the saddest displays
of the unwillingness to compromise ever witnessed in Washington.
This is what has transpired in
the past week that has put the Super Committee in this unenviable situation.
On Friday, November 18, Democrats rejected a last-ditch bid
by Republicans to save the congressional super committee from failure, leaving
the panel with no apparent path to compromise as the clock ticks toward a
Thanksgiving deadline. Having concluded that an agreement looks increasingly
unlikely on a far-reaching plan to raise taxes and restrain social spending,
Republican members of the super committee worked with House Speaker John A.
Boehner (Ohio) to develop a smaller “Plan B” that would stop far short of the
panel’s goal of $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade.
Instead, Republicans proposed to achieve $640 billion in
savings primarily through cuts to domestic agency budgets, a pay freeze and
bigger pension contributions for federal workers, cuts in farm subsidies and an
array of other spending cuts and revenue raisers. The offer, delivered Thursday
to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), included no cuts to the Pentagon
other than attrition in the civilian workforce. It also included just one small
tax increase, focused on owners of corporate jets, failing two key tests for
Democratic negotiators. Republican leadership aides said Democrats immediately
Democratic aides said the proposal would have reduced sharp
cuts to defense that are scheduled to take effect in 2013, if the super committee
fails and replaced them with cuts that would affect the middle class.
Earlier proposals exceeded the $1.2 trillion
savings mandated in the sequestration legislation. Unfortunately, the
Republicans rejected the Democrats proposal to reduce the deficit by about $3
trillion over the next 10 years, and the Democrats rejected the Republican
proposal to reduce the deficit about $2.2 trillion. There was some hope when
the Republicans on the Committee offered $300 billion in new
revenues (taxes), and the Democrats offered real savings in health care
On November 16th, in a rare bipartisan, bicameral
showing, Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate joined
together to call for the Super Committee to think big on debt reduction. In
recent weeks, 100 members of the House and 45 senators from both sides of the
aisle have urged the Super Committee to propose at least $4 trillion in savings
over ten years, well above the committee's $1.2 trillion mandate. The renewed
support for a Go Big approach to debt reduction comes as the 12 members of the
Super Committee enter the final days of negotiations. The committee had until
November 23 to vote on a package of reforms and send it to the full Congress.
President Obama has stated that the committee
needed to slash the nation’s debt. If they don’t then the Congress will have to
live with the consequences written into the August debt sequester legislation
that extended the debt ceiling. The President has said he will not sign any
measure to undo this legislation.
official White House stance is that failure is not an option, but policy
advisers privately are saying they are pessimistic that the 12-member
Congressional panel will find a way to cut $1.2 trillion from the deficit as
required. Perhaps mindful of the long odds of success, President Obama has
largely left the negotiations alone, after issuing his blueprint in September
for more than $3 trillion in savings.
If there is no proposal and legislation passed
by Congress before the end of 2012, then sequestration would kick in January
2013. If one believes in miracles, then maybe something will happen to put a
dent in the deficit. But, don’t bet your house (if you still own it) on a
[Ed. note: The Super Committee announced their failure
to reach a deal on Monday, November 21st.]
A few appropriations bills have been passed for
FY 2012. It is most likely that education will have another continuing
resolution, which means level or reduced funding for most programs through
September 30, 2012.
The saga really of not accomplishing
very much never seems to end with the 112th Congress. A weekend
government shutdown that neither party wanted was averted under a compromise,
wide-ranging spending bill that the House and Senate approved on Thursday,
November 17. The legislation also funded the following federal agencies for the
current fiscal year (FY 2012) -- Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development,
Justice and Transportation as well as science agencies including NASA.
House approval came despite misgivings
by lawmakers from the left and the right. Liberals were unhappy with a
provision blocking Obama administration efforts to knock pizza off school lunch
menus. Conservatives complained that the legislation left taxpayers on the hook
by expanding the size of some federally backed mortgages.
With Congress eager to avoid further tarnishing its atrocious public image by
shutting down the government, the House approved a compromise, wide-ranging
spending bill by a vote of 298-121 and the Senate voted in favor of the bill
70-30. The legislation will keep the government's doors open through December
16, giving lawmakers more time to catch up on their tardy budget work.
Jobs and Infrastructure Legislation
The prognosis for President Obama to get
Congress to pass most of his jobs bill is slim to none. The Senate on November
10 did pass with a vote of 95-0, one part of the bill, which supports a jobs
program for returning veterans through tax credits to business who hire
veterans. The House passed the same bill unanimously on November 16. The
President will sign this legislation.
The infrastructure component of the original jobs
bill is not moving at all, including the school construction piece. Also, similar
school construction bills introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and
Senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio) [H.B 248 and S 1597 respectively] have not gained any
significant interest to have a committee or floor vote.
Frederick (Fritz) S. Edelstein, Ph.D. is a principal in Public
Private Action, LLC. Fritz works with clients on strategic government
and constituent relations, advocacy research and policy analysis,
strategic planning and resource development, and advocacy, outreach and
public engagement. He writes and disseminates “Fritzwire,” the nation’s
leading Internet newsletter on education that provides timely education
and related information, five days a week. His career includes time
working at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, U.S. Department of Education
and the National Alliance of Business. Fritz earned is B.A. from
Washington University and a M.Ed. and Ph.D. from the University of