Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization: APA Leading Efforts to Improve Federal Education Policy

The Education Government Relations Office (GRO) serves as the  [point/coordinator/convener] for the American Psychological Association’s (APA) efforts to develop and promote recommendations for the improvement of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  This policy effort draws on the work of APA members, Task Forces and Coalitions.  Leading a team from APA GRO offices and Directorates that brought together the ideas from Public Interest, Science and Practice, Education GRO has advanced  a comprehensives set of ideas, which draw on the work of psychologists, both in research and practice, with the shared goal of improving learning opportunities for students.

APA Involvement

Beginning in September of 2008, ED GRO held a series of inter-Directorate meetings with the goal of bringing together representatives from Practice, Science, Public Interest and Education to gather the work of Divisions, Committees, Boards, Task Forces and Coalitions and draw on the research and expertise of each of these groups and individuals in the development of proposed changes to the current federal education law. The result of those meetings is a set of recommendations that draw on the wealth of what psychology has to contribute to education policy. 

APA’s recommendations touch on topics including teacher quality (defining the term, “teaching skills;” core knowledge in psychology for teachers; violence directed against teachers); research; safe learning environments and school climate (bullying); mental and behavioral health needs of students (elementary and secondary school counseling program, mental health integration and expanded school mental health); English language acquisition; growth models; and Gifted and Talented education.

Background

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is the law that directs and guides our federal investment in elementary and secondary education.  First authorized in 1965, it has as its focus equity in educational access and support.  While in the course of its days it has been changed or amended many times since enacted, the law maintains this basic commitment to providing resources to schools that are most in need.

ESEA was last authorized in 2002 for a period of five years.  For the last two Congressional sessions, ESEA has been a topic of consideration and an issue of high importance, garnering the attention of lawmakers, Presidents (both Bush and Obama), the education community and the public.  Still, the laws authorization has been expired since 2007. 

At the start of the 112th Congress, the reauthorization effort had a great deal of momentum.  President Barack Obama, in his 2011 State of the Union, used the term education 14 times and included a significant number of references to schools, innovation, teachers, learning as well as a call to “replace the No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.”

With this challenge to renew ESEA, the Department of Education (DoE) launched an aggressive reauthorization campaign that included submitting budget increases for programs that would be created or changed during the upcoming reauthorization - clearly linking policy changes to additional funding.  Department officials also talked anew about the Blueprint for Change, a general outline developed last Congress that outlined the Administration’s vision for renewing the current law. 

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate also kicked off the current Congress with its own focus on ESEA.  The Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. House of Representative’s Education and the Workforce Committee announced their intention of working in a bi-partisan fashion on developing an ESEA reauthorization proposal.  The House Committee launched a series of hearings on the current law. 

The Senate committee of jurisdiction, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led by Senator Tom Harkin and Ranking Member Mike Enzi, also spoke early about their desire to move quickly on a bipartisan ESEA overhaul.

Recent Action

On May 25, 2011, the House Education and the Workforce Committee marked up legislation by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) that eliminated approximately 40 programs from ESEA.  HR 1891 is not a comprehensive bill reauthorizing ESEA, rather an initial effort, described by the authors, to eliminate “unsuccessful, ineffective programs.” 

 The bill was adopted on a party line vote of 23-16 with all Republican members of the Committee in support and all Democratic members of the Committee opposed  While many of the programs identified in Rep. Hunter’s bill were targeted for elimination by the Obama Administration (and some were “zero-funded” in the final FY’11 appropriations) many Democrats objected to eliminating the programs and not “capturing” those funds to funnel into broader, more substantial blocks of funding dedicated to efforts that were eliminated like literacy, school safety, etc. 

Senator Tom Harkin hoped to mark up a bi-partisan bill by Memorial Day.  As of early June, there has been no comprehensive ESEA reauthorization introduced or considered by the HELP Committee.

Looking Ahead

Each day that ticks off the calendar makes it less likely that ESEA reauthorization will be completed this year – and perhaps even during the 112th Congress.  In addition, at the start of 2012, the nation will be in the true throws of the election year for all Representatives, Senators and the President.  This politically charged environment often makes bi-partisan compromise more difficult.

In addition to addressing education reform, Congress continues to grapple with other pressing national issues like the debt ceiling, the budget and funding/appropriations for the upcoming fiscal year.  Further, there are serious “bread and butter” issues that  continue to press on Congress -- pocketbook issues like joblessness, high gas prices and a slow growing economy. 

While it is still possible for the House and Senate to draft their bills, consider them in Committees and on each respective floor, conference them and then send a bill to the President – all the steps a bill would have to go through to become law -- it is highly unlikely that the entire process will be completed by the end of the 2012 calendar year.

The work that APA has put into this effort will not be lost.  Education GRO in partnership with Public Interest GRO has made visits to key Congressional staff in both the House and Senate to share with them the Association’s recommendations for ESEA.  Those meetings will continue in the months ahead with the goal of promoting APA’s recommendations and of educating Congressional staff about the impact of psychology on teaching and learning.  The recommendations are a work in progress as well, and will be updated as needed to best reflect the most recent knowledge from psychology on education policy as well as the changing political landscape.