Legislative Activity

Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization

Last Thursday, the Senate passed its version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177) – by an 81-17 vote. The bill will now move to conference with the House’s ESEA bill – the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) – which passed out of that chamber on July 8. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) stated that he plans to work with House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) this week to create a schedule for the conference process, which is excepted to take several weeks with the goal of getting a final bill to the President to sign in the fall. Conferees will most likely be members of the two education committees.

While many advocates were quick to praise the Senate’s passage of the Every Child Achieves Act, there were a number of stakeholders, particularly civil rights groups, that expressed concerns that the Senate’s bill did not go far enough in its provisions on accountability and interventions for low-performing schools. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan also expressed similar concerns when he applauded the Senate’s passage of the bill by saying that it still falls short because it does not require interventions for low-performing schools or create policies that would ensure that resources are going to the schools that need them the most. Many of these groups are hoping to convince lawmakers to make changes on these issues as the House and Senate work out the differences between their two bills in conference.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization

Last week, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Alexander spoke at an event at the American Enterprise Institute and shared that the Committee will turn its attention to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) very shortly now that it has completed its work on ESEA. The Chairman noted that he will work with Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) to have a draft bill for the committee and education stakeholders to review in September. Chairman Alexander also indicated that he is pushing for a committee markup by October, but this timeline could easily be pushed back.

In addition to laying out the timeline for HEA this fall, Chairman Alexander reiterated many of his previously stated goals for the reauthorization legislation at the AEI event. He noted the importance of (1) ending overregulation of institutions of higher education; (2) improving the accreditation process; (3) finding ways to ensure that institutions share the financial risk; and (4) collecting and disseminating important and non-duplicative data.

Need-Based Educational Aid Act

Last Tuesday, July 14, the Senate unanimously passed S.1482, the Need-Based Educational Aid Act of 2015, which would “improve and reauthorize provisions relating to the application of the antitrust laws to the award of need-based educational aid.” Specifically, the bill reauthorizes the antitrust tax exemption in Section 568 of the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 for colleges who practice need-blind admissions. The legislation would allow these colleges to collaborate on the financial aid formulas they use for determining how much students admitted on a need-blind basis can pay to attend. This will be the third reauthorization of this exemption, which is set to expire this September. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) were the original cosponsors of the bill.

The House is also moving forward with its version of the legislation, which was marked up on July 8 by the Judiciary Committee with no amendments.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, July 21: The Senate Finance Committee will mark up a bill that would extend certain expired tax provisions, including the teacher tax credit.
  • Wednesday, July 22: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing  titled “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Exploring Barriers and Opportunities within Innovation.”