Guest Blog: Exec Dir Daniel Domenech on Fading ESEA Prospects

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Today's guest blog post comes from AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech. Originally composed for his monthly Advocate article, it is being shared here for its relevance. 

It is not going to happen. ESEA will not be reauthorized any time soon. I have been a skeptic throughout the entire process. ESEA could have been easily reauthorized during the first two years of the Obama administration when the Democrats held a majority in both houses of Congress but that clearly was not a priority. After the 2011 midterm election, the Democrats lost the House and chances for reauthorization diminished. After the 2015 midterm elections, when the Republicans gained control of both legislative chambers, the possibility emerged that the Republicans had the votes to pass bills in both Houses but the threat of a Presidential veto loomed large.

Truth be told, there really are no significant policy issues between the two parties when it comes to education. The reality is that the House and Senate, whether Democrat or Republican, agree on far more than not, and that the grid lock is more aligned with adults and politics than with students and schools. At one time there was a clear delineation between Democrats and Republicans on issues like school choice, vouchers, teacher tenure and seniority, and education reform. Today those lines are blurred and the differences have become political rather than pedagogical. Last year the House passed a partisan ESEA reauthorization bill that AASA endorsed. There were many elements of the bill that we were not happy with but at least it was movement in the right direction. Steps would be taken to reduce federal intervention at the local level and accountability and assessment decisions would go back to the states, where they belong.

This year’s legislative session started with the hope that Senators Alexander and Murray would forge a bipartisan bill in the Senate and that the House would again deliver a bill as they had done last year. Indeed Alexander and Murray did what most observers of the Washington scene did not think would be possible and forged compromises between the two parties that signaled the potential passage of a bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill and did so with unanimous, bipartisan support in committee. The surprise, however, has come from the House side. As Congressman Kline moved to reintroduce last year’s House bill, he was confronted with opposition from his own party. Over 40 Republicans in the House indicated that they would not vote for the bill. He quickly pulled the bill and during the Easter break, AASA and many of our members and state executives were making phone calls in an attempt to get the recalcitrant Republicans to change their minds.

The House was anticipated to pass the exact same bill it passed last Congress, a seemingly easy feat given that this is the chamber that has passed more than a dozen attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Senate is the chamber where things were expected to perhaps fall apart – they were the ones doing the hard work of not only comprehensive reauthorization, but doing so in a bipartisan effort. To be where we are now, with the House struggling with the easy route and the Senate completing the infinitely harder task with flying colors, is a ‘Dunce and Golden Child’ scenario.

It takes two to tango and without House and Senate bills we will not have a reauthorized ESEA. With next year being a Presidential election year, we will have to wait until after the elections for our next opportunity. I would love to be proven wrong but in the meantime, waivers anyone?

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