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Education Reauthorization Approved by Senate Committee

Following a two-day mark-up, legislation (as-yet-unnumbered) designed to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was approved, 20-0, by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on March 8.

The ESEA, which was last reauthorized in 1994, represents the federal government’s contribution to public education for grades K-12. During the 106th Congress, the Senate and the House were both unsuccessful in their efforts to pass reauthorizing legislation (see The Source, 5/12/00, p. 2).

The committee-approved bill would require public school students in grades three through eight to take annual tests in the areas of math and reading. The provision reflects one of the President’s stated objectives for public education, although the testing initiative would be implemented over four years rather than the President’s three-year time frame.

For schools with a disproportionate number of low-income students that fail to meet certain standards for the test results, additional funds would be provided to spur improvement. However, for any school that continually fails to meet the bill’s standards, state governments would be called upon to intervene. The measure would authorize $400 million to assist with the costs of creating and implementing testing systems.

The provision was included in a manager’s amendment, which was approved, by voice vote, at the beginning of the mark-up. Other amendments considered by the committee included:

  • an amendment by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to provide teacher training in technology and seek reductions in dropout rates, which was approved by voice vote;
  • an amendment by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to authorize an additional $2.6 million for schools to reduce class sizes by hiring more teachers, which was defeated 10-10;
  • an amendment by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) to authorize an additional $1.5 billion for teacher training, which was defeated 10-10; and
  • an amendment by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) to authorize $1.6 billion for school renovation, which was defeated 10-10.

While the bill did not include a specific authorization level for FY2002, it has been estimated that the authorization would total $27.6 billion. Of that total, $3.8 billion would fund the ESEA’s largest section, Title I, which pertains to schools serving lower-income students, as well as teacher training and hiring.

The ESEA encompasses a number of existing education programs, including the Women’s Educational Equity Act, the Even Start literacy program, the Migrant Education program, the Reading Excellence Act, the National Writing Project, the 21st Century Learning Centers, transition programs for neglected and delinquent students, the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Act, public charter schools, magnet schools, the Inexpensive Book Distribution program, immigrant education programs, programs for homeless youth, the Innovative Education Strategies program, and programs for Indians, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives.

Two amendments were offered and withdrawn during the mark-up, foreshadowing likely floor debate. The first amendment, by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), reflected a school vouchers plan backed by the President. The second amendment, by Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), largely mirrored a block grant proposal also supported by the President.

Hearing on Assessment Testing
The President’s plan for assessment testing was the subject of a March 8 hearing held by the House Education and the Workforce Committee. All of the witnesses spoke in favor of the plan for annual standardized math and reading tests for public school students in grades three through eight.

Representing The Business Roundtable, Edward Rust, CEO of the State Farm Insurance Companies, told the committee: “Just as business must constantly monitor and make adjustments for progress, schools focused on performance and student achievement cannot succeed unless they…can measure their progress towards these goals.”

Kurt Landgraf of the Educational Testing Service, which generates and administers most standardized testing nationwide, said, “Without solid and frequent information gathered from student assessments, it will be difficult for us to know if each child is mastering the material appropriate for his or her age and grade.”

Dr. G. Reid Lyon of the National Institutes of Health said annual testing “can be useful for accountability purposes,” especially for students past grade two. He highlighted the use of testing to “screen large numbers of children to identify those most in need of systematic, focused, and intensive early instruction.” He also said testing “should be done yearly beginning in Grade 3 so that we know how well our schools are performing.”

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