Senate Moves to Undo No Child Left Behind

On June 12, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted to move Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-IA) "Strengthening America's Schools Act" or SASA (S. 1094) out of committee by a 12-10 party line vote. The measure, which substantially revamps No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), underwent a highly partisan markup in committee.

Democrats beat back efforts by Republicans to replace the Harkin bill with a bill offered by the ranking member, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), entitled "Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2013." Despite the partisan rancor, both Sens. Harkin and Alexander said that they are looking forward to bringing the bill to the Senate floor for consideration, and for conferencing with the House to produce a final education bill.

The National League of Cities (NLC) has not taken a formal position on the bill, and will not do so until the Senate prepares for floor consideration of the bill. However, it is noteworthy that many of the proposals in the bill align with NLC education policy.

The bill, which is nearly 1100 pages long, would substantially change No Child Left Behind. For example, it would require states to adopt assessments for reading, math and science by the 2015 - 2016 school year, and focus on individual student growth. States would be required to adopt content and achievement standards in reading, math and science for postsecondary education or career readiness by December 31, 2014, and English language proficiency standards by December 31, 2015.

The 37 states that currently have ESEA Flexibility waivers with an accountability system and goals approved by the Secretary of Education would be permitted to continue with the approved plans. But states that do not have such a system in place would have to adopt and accountability system that includes student achievement and growth, English language proficiency, graduation rates for all students and accountability for all student subgroup outcomes.

The bill would grant states the flexibility to use Title II funding for early childhood education, though states that chose not to use their Title I fund for this purpose, would still be required to come up with an early childhood education plan.

The bill would require that states identify the lowest five percent of elementary and secondary schools as priority schools for interventions, and the lowest ten percent of performers as focus schools, and would require significant investments to improve these schools performance. It would also require that those schools with graduation rates below 60 percent be treated as focus schools.

States would be required to issue report cards with date documenting those schools that provide Advanced Placement courses, full-day kindergarten and gifted education. States would also be required to ensure that funding for Title I schools are equal to or greater than the combined average of local and state per-pupil funds/resources in Title I schools. For states to be eligible for Title II funds, which provide funding for teacher and principal preparation, states would be required to include student achievement and growth outcomes in all teacher evaluations.

Finally, the bill would authorize Race to the Top by granting the secretary of education the authority to make competitive grants to states and local school districts to carry out reforms; and would authorize $500 million for STEM education.

Senate leadership have yet to schedule floor time for SASA, but nothing will happen until the Senate completes its work on immigration reform.