Magazine article Technology & Learning

ESEA Debate Heats Up

Magazine article Technology & Learning

ESEA Debate Heats Up

Article excerpt

Once every five years, Congress focuses its attention on the legislation that will shape the future of America's schools. When the new ESEA reauthorization is finally passed next year, there are likely to be significant changes in how billions of dollars of federal aid for education are spent and accounted for.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, established in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, opened a new era of federal support for education. Today the ESEA--which includes programs such as Title I, designed to help disadvantaged youth achieve academically; and Title III, targeting educational technology--provides over $14 billion of federal support for K-12 schools.

ESEA reauthorization is a key element of this year's legislative agenda. The main themes that are emerging are accountability and flexibility. The bills introduced so far reflect a shift from "process-oriented accountability," requiring states to show compliance with regulations, to accountability based on achievement.

To improve student achievement, the Republican leadership believes that states must be given greater spending flexibility. At its most dramatic, this flexibility translates into "block grants" that combine numerous federal programs into a single pot of money that states can spend as they see fit. Opponents contend that block granting eliminates the targeting of federal funds to the neediest communities and deprives the federal government of the ability to use federal money to spur innovation.

Another area of disagreement concerns how to approach the reauthorization debate itself. The House and the Senate, which ultimately must agree on language for the new ESEA, are taking opposite approaches. Congressman Bill Goodling, (R-Pa)., who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, favors breaking up the ESEA into multiple stand-alone bills to allow more time to discuss the various components of this complex legislation.

Senator James Jeffords (R-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, wants to keep the ESEA together as a single piece of legislation. Supporters of this approach believe that this is the only way to guarantee that all parts of the ESEA do get reauthorized.

In the Works

The House Education Committee has thus far considered three bills. One of these--the Education Flexibility Partnership Act (known as "Ed-Flex")--received bipartisan support and has already been signed into law by President Clinton. Ed-Flex permits states to waive certain federal regulations related to programs such as Title I, the Eisenhower Professional Development Program, and Safe and Drug-Free Schools, if these interfere with a school's approach to improving education. …

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