Senate Panel Approves Education Overhaul

November 1, 2011
From: Thomas L. Birch, Legislative Counsel
Vol. 02:12

Senate Panel Approves Education Overhaul

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee moved ahead on October 20 with the long-delayed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in approving a bill cosponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the committee, and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), the committee’s ranking minority member. The bipartisan measure comes after more than two years of committee hearings, debate and negotiations. Significantly, the bill would eliminate current federal policies enacted in 2002 in the No Child Left Behind Act, such as the so-called “adequate yearly progress” requirements and the mandated federal sanctions for all schools that have created pressures to teach to the test.

Of relevance to arts education, the legislation would:

  • retain arts education in the definition of a “core academic subject,” ensuring eligibility for the use of federal funds locally on arts education objectives and activities;
  • expand the meaning of “core academic subject” by incorporating the concept into—and thereby making the arts central to—additional federal education policies and programs within ESEA;
  • create a new program called Extended Learning to provide competitive grants to school districts to extend their school day, specifying the arts and music as among the reasons for extending the time for learning;
  • establish a competitive grant program with support for a broad range of subjects: arts, civics and government, economics, environmental education, financial literacy, foreign languages, geography, health education, history, physical education, and social studies, with an authorized funding level of $500 million. Currently, a similar set of programs is funded at a total of $265 million. The consolidated grant program was proposed by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and tracks a similar proposal in the Obama administration’s 2012 budget;
  • identify 10 programs of “National Significance” with a directive to the Department of Education to support “projects that encourage the involvement of persons with disabilities in the arts,” presumably a reference to continuing support for VSA arts.

Harkin hopes to bring the bill to the Senate floor in December, where its prospects are uncertain. In the House, no substantive action has been taken on ESEA to mirror the bill adopted by the Senate committee.