Last week, June 11-12, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee began its expected two-day markup to debate and amend legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The last time the bill was reauthorized was 2002, and Congress has been trying to reauthorize the current statute since 2007.
The bill being marked up was the Strengthening America Schools Act (SASA), S. 1094, which was recently introduced by Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and supported by all of the Democratic members of the Committee. With about 40 potential amendments filed before the start of the markup, the proceedings were expected to be collegial, but partisan, since Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) were unable to agree on a comprehensive, bipartisan proposal.
In 2011, then-Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY) had managed to work with Chairman Harkin to devise a proposal that had support from a few Republicans. This time, Senator Alexander introduced his own bill that reflects a more conservative and “flexible” approach to changing the 2002 K-12 education law. His bill reflects his belief that the federal role in education has evolved to such an extent that the Department of Education “has become so congested with federal mandates that it has become, in effect, a national school board.” It could be argued that Senator Alexander’s proposal, which is about 200 pages in length, represents what he considers to be the appropriate size of federal government in state and local education decisions. Senator Harkin’s 1,100-page SASA represents his.
At the end of two days of debate, during which Democrats made the case for a government that partners with schools and Republicans insisted that the government is behaving like a “national school board,” the bill was adopted on a 12-10 party-line vote. The Republican members of the committee, led by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), put forth their own proposal which was defeated 10-12 early on in the markup. At the conclusion of the executive session, despite passing a partisan proposal, Senators Harkin and Alexander talked optimistically about bringing the bill to the Senate floor for a full debate later this year.
This week, attention will turn to the House Education and the Workforce Committee, where a markup is scheduled for Wednesday on a reauthorization proposal put forth by Chairman John Kline (R-MN). Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA) has a bill of his own that has not yet been released. It is anticipated that the House markup will be a carbon copy of the HELP Committee debate, but in reverse. The Chairman’s bill will pass with no Democratic support and all Democratic amendments will be soundly defeated. Chairman Kline has said he has a commitment from the leadership to bring his ESEA bill to the floor in July, where it will surely pass with very little, but perhaps some, bipartisan support. If a conference committee does meet, the divide between the two measures is so wide that it is hard to imagine a bridge to bring them together.
To read full summaries on the Senate markup, visit:
- http://www.wpllc.net/_documents/SenateHELPCmteESEAmarkup06112013.pdf for day one, and
- http://www.wpllc.net/_documents/SenateHELPCmteESEAmarkup06122013.pdf for day two.
Prepared for Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education by Washington Partners, LLC