Monday, October 24, 2011

DFER and Congress

DFER is working hard in Congress with a range of other groups to make sure that the renewal of ESEA/NCLB is a step forward for kids, rather than a step back.  Here are the comments a few days ago from DFER's head of federal policy, Charles Barone (huge kudos to Michael Bennet!):


The Harkin-Enzi ESEA bill was passed last night in the Senate HELP Committee with a vote of 15 to 7 (all 12 Democrats voted for the bill plus 3 Republicans: ranking Republican Mike Enzi (WY), Lamar Alexander (TN), and Mark Kirk (IL)).


DFER joined a wide coalition of advocacy groups, business (including the Chamber of Commerce), civil rights organizations (including the National Council of La Raza and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund),and top state education officials (Chiefs for Change) that said it "could not support the bill."  As part of negotiations with Republican Senator Ron Paul who attempted to stall the mark-up, a hearing will be held on the bill on November 8th before heading to the Senate floor. Reports are that the Senate will try to take the bill to the floor "before Thanksgiving."


The two things we have been lobbying for hardest along with our Fight Club coalition were: 1) strong accountability for results with annual measurable goals and clear consequences for persistently low-performing schools 2) state teacher and district teacher evaluations systems that include student achievement as a predominant factor. Despite support for both policies from dozens of groups across the political spectrum, neither made it into the final bill. Secretary Duncan expressed particular disappointment about the latter item and issued a statement in which he said that "comprehensive evaluation system based on multiple measures, including student achievement, is essential for education reform to move forward" and "we can't retreat from reform."


Senator Michael Bennet was far and away the star of the markup, pushing for changes that would have improved the bill's accountability and teacher effectiveness provisions, but withdrawing most of them due to an apparent lack of bipartisan votes. Bennet did successfully beat back an anti-TFA amendment offered by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) by a vote of 18-3. Those who followed the two into the hallway subsequent to the vote said the liveliest part of the debate occurred off the official hearing record.

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