Harkin Files Comprehensive ESEA Rewrite in Senate

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A comprehensive new Elementary and Secondary Education Act draft, filed today by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) puts the emphasis on schools graduating students who are college or career ready, without the need for remedial education.

“To prepare our children to compete in the global economy, we must ensure that every American child has access to a world-class education,” Harkin said in a statement. “This is critical to basic fairness, civil rights, and the future economic prosperity of our country and its middle class.”

The proposed 860-page bill would eliminate the Adequate Yearly Progress reports introduced under the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind and many of the required penalties imposed on schools that did not meet the AYP standards.

Harkin said the bill retains the good parts of No Child Left Behind – such as the requirement that school accomplishments be disaggregated so that parents and others can determine how various groups of children are faring – but eliminates its “one size fits all” approach.

Overall, Harkin said his proposed draft – fashioned over two years working with Ranking Republican committee member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) – focuses on flexibility.  For example, the states will be able to set their own accountability standards and have a greater say in how to repair schools that don’t meet standards.

Currently, the lowest ranking schools are required to provide tutors for students in those lowest ranking schools – but the states have no control over the tutors who are engaged or how they do their work.  The bill eliminates such mandated fixes.


With its emphasis on flexibility, the bill addresses some of the same areas that the House Education and the Workforce Committee has undertaken, but in piecemeal fashion.  For example, the full House has passed a committee-backed bill that would strip all regulations from Title I and other designated money streams.

The Senate bill retains the various streams, but gives the states more flexibility in distributing the money, for example, including a definition of at-risk children that isn’t based only on the child’s test scores but also on other at-risk factors.  The bill also directs more money toward homeless children, physically disabled children and children who are in foster care.

The Harkin-introduced bill gives greater attention to school principals, teachers and other officials, and requires improvement in the so-called American “dropout factories,” the 12 percent of U.S. high schools that produce 50 percent of the dropouts.

It requires new school standards for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and also mandates standards to measure critical thinking, along with comprehensive literacy requirements. In addition to the current support for Advanced Placement courses and tests, the bill also embraces the International Baccalaureate degree, stronger charter schools and extended school day and after-school programs.

The section of the bill called the Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students program – which deals with physical education anti-bullying programs – replaces a number of programs in current law, which Harkin’s report said “supported positive practices, but had a limited reach.”

The consolidated programs are: Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act State grants, Elementary School Counseling, the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, Foundations for Learning, Mental Health Integration in Schools, and Alcohol Abuse Reduction.

To read a summary of the bill’s provisions, click here.

For a complete copy of the draft legislation, click here.