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House Committee Approves Education Bill

On May 9, after a three-day mark-up, the House Education and the Workforce Committee overwhelmingly approved, 41-7, legislation (H.R. 1) that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The bill, as passed by the committee, would authorize an increase in spending for education programs from $18.6 billion to $22.6 billion for elementary and secondary education, and would hold states and local school systems that receive federal funds accountable for raising student performance.

Republicans and Democrats worked hard to craft a compromise that could be approved by the committee. On the third day of the mark-up, nine amendments were offered and withdrawn by committee members in keeping with the bipartisan agreement. Although conservatives on the committee were unhappy with the bill, they refrained from offering a contentious amendment to provide some states with federal funds in the form of a block grant with few restrictions on how the money would be spent. States would have to show how increased flexibility would add to improved student performance. Republicans are expected to offer amendments to restore vouchers for private schools and to block grant federal aid to states without strings attached when the bill is considered on the House floor.

Also on the third day of the mark-up, the committee approved six amendments by voice vote. One, offered by Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-CO), who voted against the compromise bill, would prohibit the federal government from dictating or controlling state education curricula. Another, offered by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), who also voted against the bill, would ensure that private schools receive records on students who transfer from public schools.

Although private school vouchers were stripped from the legislation, many of the President’s proposals remained intact in the bill: students in grades 3-8 would be tested annually in reading and math; funding for literacy programs would triple from $300 million to $900 million; and parents would be able to use Title I funds for certain supplementary services for their children such as tutoring and summer school programs. The bill also would give states and local school districts some flexibility in consolidating programs they feel are duplicative in order to boost student achievement.

Republicans and Democrats praised the bipartisan education bill. House Education and Workforce Committee Chair John Boehner (R-OH) said, “We’re a giant step closer to the most significant change in federal education policy since 1965,” and added, “It’s an unmistakable signal that after three and a half decades of increasing education spending, Washington is finally beginning to demand some results from our children.” Ranking Democrat George Miller (D-CA) stated, “This bill is a compromise. It was not written exactly as I would have written it, but it contains much of what I have fought for more than half a decade in Congress.”

H.R. 1 will be considered on the House floor on May 17.

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