The Obama administration and the Senate, at least, seem ready to act on legislation reauthorizing the primary federal K-12 education bill, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. There have been discussions about including Promise Neighborhoods in this draft legislation, although its fate at the moment is unclear.
Alyson Klein, a blogger for Education Week, wrote about a joint press call held yesterday (January 26) that included Education Secretary Arne Duncan and three key senators, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; Sen. Mike Enzi, (R-WY), the top Republican; and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the ranking member of the subcommittee overseeing K-12 policy:
Harkin said there's bipartisan agreement that the federal government should focus on the needs of the lowest-performing schools and advance "teacher evaluation and improvement systems."
And he wants to ensure that the new version of ESEA allows schools to spend time on subjects other than reading and math, such as the arts. All three seem to want to keep in place the system of disaggregating data by subgroups (for example, racial minorities and particular populations, such as students in special education).
Harkin reiterated his wish to get a bill ready to mark up by the Easter recess, and on the floor by the summer. He said the committee is going to get right into the writing of legislation, with no more hearings. (The Senate committee had 10 last year.)
And he said he wants a comprehensive bill in the Senate, while the House seems more inclined to move smaller, targeted pieces of legislation.
Will Promise Neighborhoods be included? Probably, but strong support from the administration will be critical. While President Obama did not mention it in his State of the Union speech, Secretary Duncan did in a post-speech education briefing. A more concrete sign of the administration's continued commitment to its neighborhood agenda will be found in the president's budget submission, which is expected the week of February 14.
Another key player in all of this, of course, is the Republican-controlled House. According to Klein:
Harkin said there's a lot of expertise in both chambers on K-12 issues, and that can help move things along. "I think with good will and perserverance, we'll overcome those little squabbles," he said.
Alexander acknowledged he has, at various times, taken every possible position on the federal role in education. But he added, "I think the way we avoid getting hung up on that is that we're focused on fixing the problems that exist with NCLB ... We take them one by one, step by step ... we get down to basics." He said he'd like the new version of the law to "leave the decisions that divide Washington" to be decided by states, district superintendents, and others operating at the local level.
That statement, plus Speaker of the House John Boehner's stated aversion to big, complicated bills, leads me to guess that Congress will be working toward a lean, streamlined reauthorization—a path Alexander pushed for last year.