Strengthening Early Learning in a New ESEA

This is the first of three posts on early learning in a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Change is on the horizon for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a process which acquired some new urgency when the Republicans took control of the Senate in January. And “change” is really the only way to move things forward. Senator Alexander’s (R-TN) bipartisan partisan approach—where he introduced a discussion draft without conferring with Democrats on the Senate’s education committee —first was going nowhere fast. Last Friday, Alexander and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Senator Patty Murray, announced that their staffs will work together for the next several weeks in an effort to write  a bipartisan bill.

As Lauren Camera over at Education Week notes, many issues remain, including what to include for early education up through third grade. Politically speaking, there is also the big question of whether a more bipartisan bill could actually pass the GOP-controlled Senate and what it could mean for negotiations with the House and its very partisan ESEA reauthorization process. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chair John Kline (R-MN) simply decided to trot back out HR 5, which passed the House along party lines in 2013. He has also declined to hold hearings to discuss the bill. Ranking Democrat, Bobby Scott (D-VA), however, decided that wouldn’t do and held a forum of his own on ESEA reauthorization. Today, the Committee held a mark-up on HR 5. Several changes to the bill were proposed by House Republicans including changes to the Title I formula. (Read more about this on Education Week’s Politics K-12.) It’s worth pointing out that if something like HR 5 ever made it to President Obama’s desk, he would almost certainly quash it with a veto (and without a second thought).

In other words, as much as Congress and the states loathe the current version of ESEA (known as No Child Left Behind), and grumble about the Obama Administration’s waiver regime, it’s still likely that they are going to be stuck with them for a while longer. Thanks for playing. Here’s hoping for a new ESEA in 2017.

Still, for those who have been thinking about and hoping for a reauthorization since 2007, these new bills are an opportunity to think what a new, better ESEA could and should look like. And, because early education is a big priority for Senator Murray -- who could very well have the chance to lead reauthorization next time around -- now is a good time to think intentionally about how it could and should be included in a more robust way.

Here in the shadow of another (likely) failed ESEA reauthorization attempt, New America's Early Education Initiative will spend the next few days on a blog series exploring that question. We are taking a broad look across the birth-through-third-grade spectrum, including not only pre-K but also a focus on the K-3 grades. Some ideas have been described before, either by New America or in collaboration with other groups. Some are the ideas of others that I agree are worth further consideration. And some are nascent thoughts that need some further exploration. (Also stay tuned for writing from Kaylan Connally on how a new ESEA could improve educator effectiveness.)"

Author:

Laura Bornfreund is director of Early & Elementary Education Policy with the Education Policy program at New America. She leads a team of writers and analysts to conduct policy research and analysis and put forth new ideas for improving children’s birth-through-third grade learning experiences.

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