Research & Commentary: Harkin-Enzi NCLB Reauthorization

Published November 22, 2011

The U.S. Senate is considering an 860-page bill and 868-page amendment by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. The proposal passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on October 19 and received a congressional hearing November 8.

The bill eliminates adequate yearly progress (AYP), the federal provision requiring all students to rate “proficient” in reading and math by 2014. It requires states to adopt “college and career-ready” standards in math and English. It also calls for states to identify and turn around their lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and the 5 percent with the largest achievement gaps between whites and minorities. Proponents say the law repeals the most frustrating federal provisions while still requiring high standards and attention to poor schools.

Others note the bill does nothing to repeal federal paperwork requirements that cost schools $147 million last year, persists in sending billions of dollars to schools while reducing the results required in return, and will continue the NCLB legacy of spending billions while doing nothing to improve academic achievement.

The Senate has not moved to examine or vote on this or the other NCLB-reauthorizing bills, including one from four Republican senators and those passed by the House. NCLB was scheduled for reauthorization in 2007, and in the meantime the Obama administration has been waiving the law for states that adopt policies the administration favors. At least 39 states have said they will apply for waivers.

The following documents offer more information about the Harkin-Enzi bill.


Sen. Paul Issues Dear Colleague Letter Urging Deliberation and Transparency on ESEA Reauthorization
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) writes to colleagues on the Senate HELP Committee, requesting more time and consideration for a 1,728-page bill reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. The committee passed the bill two days after introducing it, Paul notes, giving senators and the public no time to analyze its contents and consequences.

Rand Paul: Time to Repeal No Child Left Behind
No Child Left Behind requirements have reduced transparency for parents and taxpayers and increased costs and workloads for local schools while doing little to boost academic achievement, writes Brian Koenig in The New American. The current Senate proposal to reauthorize the bill continues this dangerous trend, he writes, and its manner of moving through Congress calls to mind Nancy Pelosi’s comment during health care debates in 2010 about having to “pass the bill to find out what is in it.”

Senate No Child Left Behind Proposal: More Big Government for Schools
Instead of taking needed steps to reduce the federal role in education, the Harkin-Enzi bill to reauthorize No Child Left Behind substitutes a different kind of regulatory confusion, writes Lindsey Burke for The Heritage Foundation. The proposal piles rules and directives atop the existing law, offering no relief to states and local schools crying for it, she says. Policymakers should instead allow states to opt out of the law altogether, Burke writes, and let states and local communities direct their own education tax dollars as they see fit.

Race to More Ineffective Ed Spending
The Harkin-Enzi Senate bill contains a few promising ideas, but it also introduces new programs that open the door to more ineffective federal education spending, writes Annie Hsiao on National Review Online. More government programs inevitably mean more compliance measures, which already cost states and school districts more than $376 million each year. The bill also gives fewer school choice options, though charters and voucher programs have proven their ability to lift student achievement and lower costs.

The NCLB Saga Continues
Finding the votes to pass Harkin-Enzi in the Senate will be “enormously difficult,” writes Frederick Hess in National Journal, because the bill mimics the current, hated law so much while offering nothing on which to build a coalition of support. This makes No Child Left Behind reauthorization likely to draw out past the 2012 elections, and the current congressional activity is thus merely a backdrop for the real drama to come then.

A Comparison of the President and Congressional Proposals for Reform
The American Action Forum compares the differing presidential and congressional proposals for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. The document lists each bill’s main provisions for accountability, college and career standards, teacher and principal quality, failing schools, school choice, charter schools, early education, and federal funding.


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If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].