One early indication of the level of bipartisanship may come this week as the Senate HELP Committee uses its first full committee hearing to focus on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The ESEA was last reauthorized in 2002 as the No Child Left Behind Act but it expired in 2007. HELP Chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) indicated that he has been having discussions with his Democratic counterpart Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) but this week’s hearings may be the first indication of how real cooperation will be. Senator Alexander unveiled a discussion draft last Tuesday night detailing his plan for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind: Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015. Chairman Alexander had a proposal in 2013 that was based on much more state flexibility in how they use the more than $14 billion in federal education funding. Senator Alexander told some Washington publications that “If we can agree with something, we’ll put it in a bill, and if not, the issue will be negotiated down the line on the Senate floor or with the president.”
As Alexander was setting his bar, Ranking Democrat, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) indicated that her priorities for a reauthorization include increases in funding for low-income students, improving resources for principals and teachers and boosting early childhood education.
Child welfare advocates are likely to once again push efforts to align the foster care-education mandate within the education law to match up the current requirements under Title IV-E foster care. Those Title IV-E foster care mandates require that if a child moves due to being placed in foster care they be able to stay in the same school district or get immediate enrollment within a new school district, depending on what is in the best interest of that child in care. Since the current mandate is through child welfare law as a practical matter it does not always translate into a mandate on the local education agency.