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NCLD Recap: Senate HELP Committee Markup of ESEA

Written by Meghan Casey, Policy Research & Advocacy Associate | April 17, 2015

This week, the Senate HELP Committee considered and debated the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, which would replace the current law, No Child Left Behind Act. Over the course of these few days—during what is called the “markup”—senators offered more than 50 amendments to expand, improve or change the bill.

Over the course of these three days, many champions stood up for students with disabilities. These included Sen. Cassidy (R-LA), Sen. Murphy (D-CT) and Sen. Casey (D-PA), who recognized the progress and potential of students with disabilities and the need for strong policies that set high expectations. Throughout the committee debate, senators discussed some of the issues that are most important to students with learning and attention issues and their families, like assessments, literacy and educator training.

Amendments on Assessment

  • Sen. Isakson (R-GA) introduced an amendment to Title I that would remove the 1% cap on alternate assessments. This would mean that more than 1% of students would be allowed to take the alternate assessment, likely taking them off track for graduating with a regular diploma. Isakson withdrew this amendment, so the 1% cap will remain in effect in the bill, and a limited number of students for whom the test is appropriate will take it.
  • Sen. Franken (D-MN) offered an amendment that would allow computer-adaptive testing on statewide assessments. This means that as a student makes his way through the test, the questions will adjust their level of difficulty for the student. This amendment was adopted by the committee.
  • Sen. Baldwin (D-WI) introduced an amendment based on the SMART Act, which would provide funds for states to audit state assessment systems, eliminate duplicative tests, and invest in high-quality assessments aligned to state content standards. This amendment was adopted by the committee.

Amendments on Early Education

  • Sen. Murray (D-WA), with the support of Sen. Isakson, offered an amendment on early learning programs. This amendment would allow states to use existing federal funds to improve, strengthen and expand existing high-quality early childhood programs and coordinate funding streams to improve delivery. Developing early literacy and early math skills is key to identifying learning challenges and spotting factors that may indicate a child is at-risk for having a learning disability. This amendment was adopted by the committee.

Amendments on Educator Training

  • Sen. Cassidy introduced an amendment that would allow states and local school districts to use their Title II Part A funds on professional development so that educators can better understand, identify and address the early indicators of learning disabilities, including dyslexia. Children with learning disabilities—like dyslexia, math disabilities and writing disabilities—spend the majority of their day in the general education classroom, though general education teachers have had minimal preparation and professional development on how to meet their needs. This amendment failed by a close vote of 10-12.
  • Sen. Casey introduced an amendment to ensure that all educators, principals and school leaders are “profession ready and able to meet the needs of their students. Students with learning disabilities are in every school and every classroom and all educators need to be prepared to meet their needs, having completed programs that prepare them to be ready and having demonstrated their skills through performance. This amendment was withdrawn by Sen. Casey.

Other Educational and School Programming

  • Sen. Cassidy also introduced another amendment related to the LEARN Act, which is a comprehensive literacy program for struggling readers. Sen. Cassidy’s amendment would have added a phrase to ensure that the bill includes “children with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities.” This bill was not adopted by the committee and the vote was 8-14.
  • Sen. Mikulski (D-MD) introduced an amendment to include the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act in the bill. The Javits Act provides critical research and development of best practices to better identify and serve students with gifts and talents, with a focus on students with disabilities, from low-income backgrounds, or who are English language learners. This amendment passed.
  • Sen. Murphy introduced an amendment on Tuesday that would require states to include in their plan how they will protect students from physical or mental abuse in schools, including the use of restraint and seclusion for students with disabilities. This amendment passed.
  • Sen. Franken’s amendment supporting accelerated learning and advanced placement (AP) programs was passed by the committee. This amendment is a great step for students with disabilities, who enroll in AP courses at a rate of only 1%, but who should have access to these programs and can succeed in them.
  • Sen. Franken offered an amendment that would reinstate the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program (ESSCP). ESSCP, as the only federal grant dedicated to helping school districts establish and enhance school counseling programs, is critical to ensuring that students with and without disabilities have access to appropriate mental health and counseling services. This amendment passed the committee and will be included in the bill.
  • Sen. Baldwin and Sen. Hatch (R-UT) worked together to offer an amendment relating to education technology, referred to as the I-TECH amendment. This amendment would support innovation and technology, helping to push forward systems of blended learning and personalized learning. The amendment was passed by the committee.
  • Sen. Murphy offered an amendment that would allow federal funds to be used to assist states in reducing juvenile delinquency and to curb the school-to-prison pipeline. This amendment failed with a vote of 10-12.

Accountability

Several Senators, including Sens. Collins, Murphy, and Warren, offered and withdrew amendments relating to stronger accountability systems. These included amendments that would identify low-performing schools and those with low graduation rates and target those schools for support and intervention. Senate Democrats are pushing for increased accountability, but right now, the bill will not include any of these amendments.

Here’s the roundup from all three days:

  • 57 amendments were considered
  • 29 of the amendments were adopted
  • 8 amendments were defeated
  • 20 amendments have been discussed by the committee and should be revisited when the bill is on Senate floor
  • 5 of the adopted amendments were Republican
  • 24 of the adopted amendments were Democratic

Next Steps

Within the next several weeks, the full Senate will consider this bill with all of the amendments added to it. During that process, there will be another chance to shape the law and include students with learning and attention issues. We will need your help again when that time comes! Stay tuned and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to see how you can get involved and have your voice heard.

Before you go, be sure to check out these clips featuring Senator Cassidy advocating for students with dyslexia!

Senator Cassidy and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during a hearing on the Department of Education’s budget for FY 2016:

Programs: