Wednesday, November 14, 2007

As NCLB Action Slows, HEA and Head Start Move Forward

It was reported in the press last weekend that Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, stated that action on reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act in the Senate would not occur this year. The story grew, was picked up by other papers and caused a great deal of buzz in education policy circles. Advocates also wondered if Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), House Education and Labor Committee chairman, would continue to move forward with his reauthorization proposal. After all, the House seemed closer to completing a comprehensive proposal, and stakeholders had weighed in heavily with House staff and committee members on their priorities and recommended changes to the draft.

The proverbial nail found its way into the coffin mid-week. Miller released a press statement voicing frustration with the administration and what he considers to be its resistance to any changes to current law. These sentiments were compounded by veto threats to proposed increases in education spending in the FY 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill, leading Miller to opine that action on reauthorizing No Child Left Behind "this Congress" is unlikely. This statement went further than previous rumors, since the 110th Congress extends through the end of 2008.

Education advocates know that, in recent weeks, performance pay, multiple measures, changes to adequate yearly progress and other proposed changes caused tension not only across party lines but also within each party's caucuses. Strong criticism of certain proposals from teacher union groups and others further complicated negotiations. While this pause in the reauthorization process is not at all unexpected, it is disappointing to many who had hoped for reasonable changes before presidential politics consume Washington and little to no work is expected to be accomplished.

The Senate passed its comprehensive HEA reauthorization bill this summer by a vote of 95-0, and many have pushed for the House to match that progress. A press release announcing the bill's introduction asserts that the bill would:

  • Streamline the federal student financial aid application to make it easier for all eligible students, especially from low-income households, to apply for financial aid
  • Make textbook costs more manageable for students by helping them plan for textbook expenses in advance of each semester;
  • Expand college access for low-income and minority students by allowing students to receive year-round Pell Grant scholarships and strengthening college readiness programs
  • Increase college aid and support programs for veterans and military families to help veterans, active duty military personnel, and their family members attend college and succeed
  • Create safer college campuses for students and faculty by developing campus safety and disaster readiness plans for all colleges and helping schools recover and rebuild in the event of a disaster
  • Ensure equal college opportunities and fair learning environments for students with disabilities to provide them with the resources and support they need to stay in school and graduate
  • Help strengthen our nation's workforce and economic competitiveness by boosting science, technology and foreign language educational opportunities, by providing public service loan forgiveness to encourage and reward students who enter critically needed service fields and by enhancing teacher training and development programs

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