House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., is preparing a package of education bills to reauthorize the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, responding to a plea from the Senate for House legislation that would allow a conference committee to proceed. Kline's committee is expected to vote on two bills in February, one addressing teacher qualifications and another to change the law's current accountability provisions (the ones that require all public-school kids to be at grade level in reading and math by 2014). Those measures, along with the three bills the committee approved last year, will make up the reauthorization package.
The House exercise will be a partisan one. Kline is introducing the reauthorization package without Democrats' support after staff-level bipartisan talks broke down in December. Kline said he decided to move forward because the negotiations were stuck. Committee ranking member George Miller, D-Calif., said the move effectively kills the effort to update the landmark standards-setting law. "Bipartisanship is the only successful way forward," Miller said. Kline later told reporters that Miller is welcome to "influence" the measure at any time, but Miller's staffers say they haven't heard from their Republican counterparts since they walked out of the talks.
The House situation differs from that of the Senate, but only slightly. The Senate's education bill is technically "bipartisan" because it has the tepid support of a few Republicans, but they have made it clear they will bolt if the measure doesn't change before it goes to the floor.
The disagreements between Republicans and Democrats in the House have been evident all along, even when the committee staffers were in active negotiations. The only bill on last year's slate that didn't pass the committee on straight party lines involved charter schools. The other two committee bills would streamline education funding and give states more flexibility with federal dollars.
Is Kline right that something is better than nothing? Or is Miller right that any action on an education reauthorization must be bipartisan? Could the forthcoming discussion be useful, even if disagreements make it impossible to complete the legislation this year? Does a partisan approach damage the broader debate. If so, how?