Senators Announce Bipartisan Agreement to Update Federal Education Law

Students would still take annual standardized tests, but states would have much more control in how the results are used to scrutinize schools under a bipartisan plan to update the No Child Left Behind education law announced Tuesday by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, in a joint press release issued with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) the committee’s senior Democrat.

The senators announced an April 14 hearing on their proposal, which Alexander and Murray have worked on behind closed doors for months. Among the issues they’ve grappled with is whether to maintain annual testing requirements for all students in reading and math in grades three to eight and again in high school. Their plan keeps those requirements, but allows states to determine the weight of those tests in how they judge schools.

States would also still be responsible for reporting dis-aggregated data for subgroups of students, including minorities, low-income students, English-learners, and those with disabilities.

States would also be required to include graduation rates in their accountability systems, as well as one measure of post-secondary education or workforce readiness (such as college enrollment rates, for example), and English proficiency rates for English-language learners. In addition, states could include any other measure of student and school performance they wish, such as the percentage of students taking an Advanced Placement test, for example.

The Senate agreement comes in contrast to a partisan stalemate in the House, where a vote on a GOP-crafted bill authored by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) to update the Bush-era law was abruptly cancelled in February amid opposition from conservatives concerned that it would continue too strong a federal role in education.  The House bill also included a provision to allow Title I dollars for low-income students to follow them to the school of their choice, a Republican-backed policy known as “Title I portability”.  This was not included in the Senate compromise proposal.

The April  14 committee session, during which members will offer amendments to eliminate language from or add language to the compromise measure, will test the political skills of both Alexander and Murray.  It is likely, however, with both expressing a goal of preserving the bipartisan nature of the bill, amendments that are more partisan in nature will be saved for Senate floor debate rather than a vote in committee.

Read More: Watertown Daily Times; Press Release; Bill Summary; Bill Text