House to Vote on ESEA Bill

July 18, 2013
From: Isaac Brown, Legislative Counsel
Vol. 13:06

As you know, NASAA has been closely monitoring the efforts of members of both the House and Senate to pass legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s preeminent federal education law, which expired in 2007.

Recap: Arts Policy Priorities for ESEA

Reauthorization of ESEA presents a pivotal opportunity for federal policymakers to expand the role of arts education in public school and after-school curriculums. To that effect, NASAA published a set of policy priorities we hope will be included in legislation reauthorizing the bill. Those priorities are:

  • Continuation of the arts as a “core academic subject” on par with other academic disciplines
  • Explicit inclusion of the arts in the language governing how Title I funds are used
  • Insertion of the arts and design into language identifying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education as a priority

New Developments in the House

Soon, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 5, the Student Success Act. The Student Success Act would authorize federal education programs and funding for five years (fiscal years 2014-2019). H.R. 5, which passed out of the House Education and Workforce Committee on a party-line vote last month (all Republicans on the Committee voted in favor; Democrats uniformly opposed), is expected to pass when it is considered by the House of Representatives later this week, despite strong opposition from House Democrats and a veto threat from President Obama. Their opposition stems from the fact that the legislation significantly reduces the role of the U.S. Department of Education in setting and maintaining standards for public schools by redirecting this authority to state education officials.

NASAA Neutral on H.R. 5

NASAA recognizes and respects the fact that our membership represents a range of political viewpoints on state prerogatives and other issues. NASAA is taking a neutral position on H.R. 5 for the following reasons:

  • While the Student Success Act does not expand opportunities for arts education programs, neither does it contain any restrictions on existing opportunities. As such, we don’t view H.R. 5 as a productive target for opposition advocacy at this time.
  • As we have noted in previous Legislative Alerts, the Senate has introduced and is considering legislation that embraces our policy priorities for the arts. It would be beneficial for the Senate’s version of ESEA reauthorization to receive full consideration through a House and Senate conference process. However, without passage of H.R. 5 in the House, no conference process can occur, making it unlikely that ESEA reform of any kind would be considered this year.
  • By refraining from joining the divisive debate that surrounds H.R. 5, we hope to be viewed by members of Congress from both parties as an honest, bipartisan stakeholder when the final text of this legislation is negotiated. We believe that taking this approach will put NASAA and its members in the best position to advocate effectively for our policy positions.

Expect an Alternative Bill

During debate of H.R. 5, Representative George Miller (D-CA), the ranking member of the Education and Workforce Committee, is expected to offer substitute legislation as an amendment to the bill. There are many provisions within this substitute amendment that we as arts advocates are very excited about, including:

  • Identifying the arts as a core academic subject, eligible for Title I funding
  • Ensuring that arts education programs receive a dedicated source of funding under the well-rounded students program
  • Including art and design in the definition of STEM program activities

This proposal represents an important affirmation for arts education policy. That is why, last month, NASAA Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Katz wrote to Representative Miller to applaud the inclusion of these provisions in the amendment, and we look forward to working with Representative Miller to promote these policies as the ESEA reauthorization process proceeds. However, like H.R. 5, the Miller proposal takes positions viewed as partisan on education policy issues that are unrelated to arts education, such as teacher evaluation. NASAA, many of our members and many of our colleagues must set our sights on the conference committee process as the mechanism most likely to achieve our desired policy outcomes.

Again, we appreciate the sensitive nature of this issue and look forward to continuing to work with our membership to advance legislation in Congress that promotes arts education programs and the arts generally. In addition to monitoring the Student Success Act, NASAA is pleased to inform you that last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved forward a recommendation for $27 million in FY2014 funding for the Arts in Education program at the U.S. Department of Education. We will provide more information about this legislation in our next communication.

As the House continues to work on these issues, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions, comments or suggestions.