Late Tuesday, April 7, HELP Committee Chair and Ranking Member Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) released a bipartisan draft to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The law more commonly known as the “No Child Left Behind Act” since its last reauthorization in 2002, will be taken up and debated starting on Tuesday.

Reaction to the ESEA reauthorization proposal was generally positive with many education advocates praising the draft but also highlighting a desire for modifications.

Of special interest to the child welfare community is an effort to amend the ESEA to better address the needs of children in foster care. The 2008 Fostering Connections to Success Act directed child welfare agencies (through amendments to Title IV-E of the Social Security Act) to assure that if a child is placed in foster care they remain in their same school if it’s in the child’s best interest. If a child must move because it is in their best interest then the child welfare agency is to assure that they get immediate enrollment in a new school district. This also includes the required transfer of important documents such as education records.

The draft does not include the improvements that were a part of the Fostering Connections Act and as a result Senator Al Franken (D-MN) is expected to offer an amendment during the committee debate.

Before the draft was released Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) issued a statement regarding their legislation, the Strengthening America’s School Act that would amend the ESEA to provide the same assurances in education law as exist in Title IV-E.

One challenge for foster children has been the issue of transportation costs when the child is moved outside of the school district but continues to attend the same school—beyond current transportation routes. States can use child welfare funding (Title IV-E) but different school districts have different transportation structures and funding. The Murray-Franken proposals would require a negotiation and plan between the child welfare agency and the education agency to determine how the transportation costs will be covered. The amendments would require the local school to have a designated contact within the school if the child welfare agency has a designated contact. To avoid undercutting the support for homeless children and youth, in schools that are considered a “high needs school” the point of contact must be a different person than the school liaison assigned to monitor homeless children and youth as outlined under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. These provisions are not in the draft bill although there is some directives to state education agencies and a required study by HHS and the Education departments to study some of these issues.

In announcing the ESEA reauthorization draft, Senator Alexander said, “Senator Murray and I have worked together to produce bipartisan legislation to fix ‘No Child Left Behind. Basically, our agreement continues important measurements of the academic progress of students but restores to states, local school districts, teachers, and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement. This should produce fewer and more appropriate tests. It is the most effective way to advance higher standards and better teaching in our 100,000 public schools.”

For her part Senator Murray said, “This bipartisan compromise is an important step toward fixing the broken No Child Left Behind law. While there is still work to be done, this agreement is a strong step in the right direction that helps students, educators, and schools, gives states and districts more flexibility while maintaining strong federal guardrails, and helps make sure all students get the opportunity to learn, no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make… I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to build on this bipartisan compromise and move legislation through the Senate, the House, and get it signed into law.”

The House passed legislation out of that Committee before the congressional February break and a few weeks later attempted to move the bill on the House floor but pulled the legislation when it appeared there were not enough Republican votes to deliver a majority. That bill would do away with many of the current law mandates and funding requirements. Congressman John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee has indicated that he would like to have the bill voted on soon with his goal to have a conference committee with Senate counter parts after the Senate has acted on its bill. He has indicated that if the timing works right the Congress would have a bill on the President’s desk by the end of this year.

To read the Senate legislation go here, to read a summary go here, and to read HR 5 go here.