Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
The arrival of Easter marks the end of the Senate’s window of opportunity to meet its first Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known as No Child Left Behind) reauthorization deadline. Despite early enthusiastic statements on reauthorization as a top priority of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the Committee’s actions to meet this first deadline have fallen short.
Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) also set an ambitious target for completing a reauthorization that is more than three years behind schedule:
My goal is to have a bill ready for the president’s signature by late summer. Of course we have no control over the House, but I am hopeful that they will move expeditiously also in that regard.
There is still time for Congress to roll up its sleeves to meet President Obama’s goal of reauthorizing the nation’s main education law before school starts in the fall, but the clock is ticking. The federal government has a very important role to play on key issues like fiscal equity, accountability, teacher and principal quality, and school turnarounds, especially for students in states that are not taking aggressive measures to close the achievement gap.
Meanwhile, energetic reform efforts are underway in several states. Illinois, for example, just moved legislation through its State Senate that addresses the most contentious issues in education — seniority, tenure, dismissal, strikes, and longer school days. If passed in the House, the new law would streamline the current 27-step dismissal process and end the “last in, first out” policy of firing newest teachers first. Tenure would be based on performance, and teachers who earn excellent ratings during their first three years can actually earn tenure faster than they can now.
Congressional lethargy is taking a toll on states, schools, and students. New information released today shows that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan granted 315 waivers to ESEA requirements in 2009 — more than a nine-fold increase over the number of waivers issued by his predecessors. The waivers signal states’ need for flexibility under the current system, which Congress has been slow to reform. Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) is showing more enthusiasm for reform than our Senators are — which is all the more reason for the Senate HELP Committee to pick up its game and get reauthorization moving again.