Whither ESEA Reauth?

Earlier this year, President Obama and EdSec Arne Duncan made it perfectly clear.  We absolutely, positively needed ESEA reauthorization before the start of the 2011-2012 school year.  As we are now less than three months from that benchmark, how close are we?

Similarly, we heard promises from some in the U.S. Senate that a new ESEA bill would be offered to those on the senior circuit by Easter 2011.  The ears have been eaten off of virtually all the chocolate bunnies, and there is nary a stale jelly bean left.  But still no ESEA.
Unfortunately, it looks like we are no closer to reauthorization than we we last year, or in 2009, or even in 2007 (when it was originally due).  In fact, we may be further away than it seems.  Eduflack has said it before, and he’ll say it again.  In all likelihood, ESEA will be reauthorized in the first half of 2013.  (Yes, that isn’t a typo.  2013.)
Why?  Let’s take a look at things.  Round 3 Race to the Top and Round 2 Investing in innovation details went over like a lead balloon last week.  About a billion dollars in new spending for states and districts was discussed, yet few paid it much attention.  And those that did seemed to criticize it.  Too much money for early childhood education.  Too little money for Round 2 RttT finalists.  Yet another round of proposals, applications, and reviews for those seeking i3.  The ed reform merry-go-round continues, with heavy rhetoric but light financial incentive, at least by most perspectives.
Other than a Labor Day wish, we’ve seen little from the U.S. Department on Education regarding reauthorization.  No updated blueprint.  No new recommendations.  Just proposed program cuts and consolidations in the President’s budget, and the promise of more competitive grantmaking and investments in innovative ideas.  And some are already chattering that the folks on Maryland Avenue are going into “hunkering down” mode, just hoping to make it through the elections a mere 17 months away.
So let’s move to Capitol Hill.  On the House side, we have an Education Committee Chairman following Ohio State’s old “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy.  The House is moving incrementally, moving individual bills on individual issues to “fix” or “improve” NCLB.  Chairman John Kline (MN) has made his agenda clear, and the Committee will take things piece by piece.  Assuming the Senate acts on the House bills, we could have a nice little ESEA patchwork quilt by 2013, anchored by the original NCLB and enhanced by the patches and flourishes developed by the House committee.
And on the Senate side?  Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) has been resolute in his intention to bring ESEA reauthorization forward.  But in the absence of a final, complete piece of legislation, gossip has filled the void.  Is there a full piece of ESEA reauth, based on the components that have been floating around for months?  Will the chairman bypass the usual process for moving legislation forward, and instead just move to a multi-day, full committee markup of the NCLB law?  Or will the Senate follow the Kline model and start picking off important issues like special education, ECE, rural ed, and accountability?  
Only time will tell which path we actually head down.  But it begs one important question.  Do we really need ESEA reauthorization right now?  Short of the EdSec acting to address the AYP pitfalls coming in 2014, are there other necessary changes to enact in ESEA?  RttT and i3 can continue without being codified in ESEA.  Tweaks to teacher quality can proceed, as can much of the turnaround efforts.  And we can continue to focus on data systems and assessment models and even common core without making changes to ye olde ESEA.
Assuming Duncan and company can secure the dollars for their agenda in the upcoming budget, 2013 doesn’t seem so bad after all.  Sure, you don’t get the bounce in your step from passing “landmark legislation,” but you have little preventing you from enacting your plans and policies.

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