One of the issues for the fall session is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or (since the last reauthorization in 2002) more commonly referred to as the No Child Left Behind Act. Both the Senate and House have passed very different versions. In negotiating their differences during a Conference Committee, advocates are seeking improvements in early childhood and pre-kindergarten programs.

The Senate had an extensive debate both in the HELP Committee and on the Senate floor. The House pushed through a more partisan version that strips out many parts of the 50 year old law.

The Senate-passed bill includes several early childhood education provisions:

  • specifying that Title I funds can be used for early education;
  • requiring alignment of K-12 standards with early education standards;
  • supporting coordination across early education programs;
  • allowing professional development for early childhood educators, including that focused on transitions from preschool to kindergarten, to be funded with Title II dollars;
  • allowing funds for literacy education to be used for early education programs;
  • providing funds to support early childhood educators working with English Language Learners;
  • allowing Title III dollars to be used to support school readiness for English language learners;
  • allowing Title IV funds that support children’s physical and mental health to be used in early learning programs;
  • giving charter schools the opportunity to use federal funding to create early education programs;
  • allowing literacy and arts education grants to be awarded to early learning programs; and
  • allowing Title VII funds (Indian education) and Title VIII funds (Alaska Natives education) to be used for early education programs;

The provisions received wide bipartisan support in the Senate but the House bill on these issues and several others attempts to eliminate federal requirements and categories.

The Senate bill also provides some provisions that seek to provide continued education access for children in foster care. The provisions, similar to what is included in current child welfare law, are also left out of the House bill.

A Conference Committee will require some dramatic compromises. The negotiation partners include Senate Republicans as well as a significant role by minority Senate Democrats, House Republican leadership but also the White House. The President will not sign a highly partisan bill so any final deal much bridge a divide.

Congressman John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has expressed hope that Congress will complete action before the end of the year. This past week Congressman Kline announced he would not seek re-election next year. That could either weaken his role in the caucus or free him up from some of the politics. Since the reauthorization expired years ago there is no current legal pressure to do that but the presidential campaign is likely to create some political pressures. As a result this could carry over into next year or even into next year’s lame duck session.