As the Senate education panel attempts to rewrite the nation’s main federal education law, the panel’s top Democrat has convinced the Republican chairman to start over and craft what both sides say will be a bipartisan bill.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the panel’s chairman, had released a GOP draft bill and held two hearings and a roundtable discussion on various aspects of the complex legislation, which governs the way the federal government interacts with the nation’s 100,000 K-12 public schools.
The current version of the law, known as No Child Left Behind, was due for reauthorization in 2007, but efforts to rewrite the law during the past several sessions of Congress have collapsed. Nearly everyone involved in education — teachers, principals, and policy makers on the state and federal levels — agree that the current law is outdated and broken. But there are deep disputes about the appropriate federal role in education.
In this Congress, both Alexander and the ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, say they are determined to find common ground and draft a new law that will get bipartisan support.
Senate staffers representing Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been holding near-daily negotiations about proposed legislation, outlining what each side wants to see in a final bill.
But in recent days, aides to Murray have suggested that Alexander was “jamming” his GOP bill through the committee on an aggressive timetable that would bring it to the Senate floor for a vote by early March.
That led to a lengthy conversation Thursday night between Alexander and Murray, aides on both sides said. The talk ended in agreement that the pair would ditch Alexander’s GOP proposal and start over to create a bipartisan bill that they would bring to the rest of the Senate committee. The new approach is likely to add to the timetable for passing a bill out of committee and bringing it to the Senate floor.
“We’ve agreed to move forward to develop a bipartisan chairman’s mark to fix No Child Left Behind,” Alexander and Murray said in a joint statement. “Our staffs will begin working today with each other and with the staffs of other senators on the committee. We know our constituents expect us to fix this broken law and improve education for students, families, and communities across the country — and we expect to succeed.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, Democrats in the House have been railing that the Republican majority has filed a partisan bill to address No Child Left Behind, one which they say they cannot support. The bill is a nearly identical to a bill passed by the GOP-controlled House in 2013, a bill President Obama had threatened to veto.