Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Congress Considering Changes to No Child Left Behind

The U.S. House of Representatives' committee on education today passed a bill to overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act supported by the Republican majority and opposed by the committee Democrats.  The new bill would continue to require states to tests students in math and reading in grades three through eight and in high school, but would give states much more flexibility in designing the accountability system using those tests.

KASB has supported changes in No Child Left Behind requirements, including a waiver from many NCLB provisions that was approved for Kansas last summer.  Because that waiver requires states to adopt new "college and career-ready" standards and assessments, it was entangled in the debate over Common Core standards during the past Legislative session.

Because the House bill reduces state and school district requirements, it has been endorsed byt the National School Boards Association.  However, NSBA opposes a provision in the bill that would eliminate the  "maintenance of effort" for special education that requires states and school districts to keep their own contribution to special education funding at a certain level to quality for federal funding.  In addition, NSBA would likely withdraw support if the bill is amended on the House floor to allow more "school choice" options for funding charter schools or private schools.

While the House bill would eliminate many NCLB requirements, Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have endorsed a bill that would essentially replace with No Child Left Behind with a program similar to the current waivers approved by the U.S. Department of Education.  NSBA opposes that bill, arguing it includes too many new regulations and intrusions into local district authority.  Generally, Democrats support higher funding levels of K-12 aid programs, but also more "strings" in the form of regulations and requirements.  Republicans support less funding but fewer requirements that may increase costs.

Education Week's Politics K-12 blog posted this story on today's House vote, including this chart comparing the Senate Democrat's bill, a Senate Republican alternative, and the House bill.

The No Child Left Behind Act refers to changes in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act adopted in 2001 with the support of President George W. Bush.  Normally, ESEA would have been revised or "re-authorized" several years ago,but  the partisan divide between President Obama and the Senate Democratic majority and the House Republican majority has for years blocked agreement on any changes.  In 2011, the Obama administrative gave states the option of seeking waivers from many of the provisions of NCLB by agreeing to alternative testing and accountability systems.  Kansas received a conditional waiver last summer.

One condition of the waiver was to adopt a set of "college and career-ready standards" in reading and math.  Kansas qualified because the State Board of Education had previously adopted the Common Core standards developed under the leadership of state governors and school officials.  During the past Legislative session, some Kansas Legislators pushed to prohibit the state from continuing to implement those standards, which was expected to invalidate the NCLB waiver and require the state to either start over on standards or go back under the NCLB requirements.  Those efforts were defeated, but are expected to emerge next session.  KASB opposed Legislative action that would threaten the NCLB waiver.  The issue of state standards, testing and accountability is one of the topics of discussion at this month's KASB advocacy meetings across the state.

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