Republican ESEA Bill Begins the Dialogue, Anew – But There is Much Work, for Music, Left to Do

Earlier this week, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a “discussion draft” of his new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization proposal. In a nutshell, the bill does not signify a step forward for music education, in federal statute.

Impossible not to immediately notice, is that this new bill is almost identical in both size and scope, to S.1101, the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2013, which then-Ranking Member Alexander released as a substitute to outgoing Chairman Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) substantially longer, and broader, ESEA bill (which NAfME supported, at the time).

In discussions with NAfME policy staff leading up to the release of this new proposal, Chairman Alexander’s staff made it quite clear that the Republican-led HELP Committee planned to remain true to their 2013 proposal for ESEA reauthorization, and, if anything, will do even more to curtail what they perceive to be federal overreach into education policy. Without a doubt, thus far, they have been true to their word.


Chairman Alexander’s discussion draft, which is not a bipartisan effort, stands in stark contrast to the much more “involved” vision outlined on the Senate floor and in a statement, this week, by Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), who concurs strongly with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding the importance of maintaining annual assessments in reading and mathematics, and argues for making a significantly stronger investment in public education, for the sake of battling inequality by ensuring access to high quality learning experiences for all students.

While there remains a deep philosophical divide between the two camps’ visions for education reform, there is also considerably more optimism on Capitol Hill than during previous reauthorization attempts, and a feeling remains, that, in time, and with compromise, it is possible that a deal could be reached, this year. In reality, the Chairman’s Discussion Draft remains only the very first foray into these choppy education reform waters, and a bipartisan effort, in Congress, is likely to be the only strategy that will actually yield substantive results. There remains much work to do, and the music education community is prepared to roll up its sleeves.

Implications broadly, and for music education, in the new Republican bill, are outlined below:

  • Core Academic Subjects have been eliminated.
  • The Arts in Education Program has been eliminated, as have numerous other programs, including 21st Century Learning.
  • Two options for assessment are presented for discussion, both of which would require states to create their own assessment protocols. The first option would, in effect, maintain the current law mandating annual testing in grades 3 through 8, and the second would replace it with a protocol that would not require annual testing, while offering several alternative assessment options that encompass multiple measures of learning.
  • Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements have been eliminated. Instead, States are required to submit plans to implement accountability systems that take into account academic achievement based upon assessments and, potentially, other measures.
    • The Secretary is prohibited from including any standards, assessments, student growth measures, or accountability systems.
    • States are required to have “challenging standards” in math, reading or language arts, and science, and “any other subjects determined by the state.” Such standards are required to be aligned with the admission requirements of a state higher education institution and with the Technical Education Act of 2006.
  • Maintenance of Effort provisions are eliminated.
  • School Improvement Grants are eliminated, but the Title I-A set-aside for technical assistance has been increased to eight percent of funds at the state level.
  • Highly qualified teacher language is eliminated; however, teachers and paraprofessionals must meet state certification and licensure requirements. In addition, States must submit reports to the Secretary on numbers of licensed teachers, principals, and other administrators; numbers certified to teach in their field; first-time passage rate of teachers on licensure exams; and results of teacher and administrator evaluations.
  • Development of assessment, certification, and recruitment and training programs is transferred to the states.
  • States must submit annual report cards on aggregated student achievement data, percentage of students assessed and not assessed, any other achievement indicators determined by the state, graduation rates, teacher qualifications, performance of LEAs and schools in the state, teacher and administrator performance, and per-pupil expenditures.
  • States must also report to the Secretary annually on disaggregated achievement data for identified sub-populations, schools identified for targeted improvement, numbers of students participating in school choice, data on teacher certification, and information on teacher and administrator evaluations (if available).
  • LEAs must submit report cards similarly to the requirements above. LEAs must also report to the state any additional information required by the state.
  • States would be permitted to implement a Title I portability option to allocate Title I-A funds strictly on the basis of counts of children living in low-income families, and LEAs would then allocate the funds to schools on that same basis. The determination of an eligible child would be made via census data.
  • States receiving Title II funding must submit a plan to the Secretary on how they will use the funds.
  • Title II subgrants to LEAs are made on the basis of assessments to determine acute staffing needs related to increasing numbers of “effective” teachers and administrators, and ensuring that low-income students are served by these teachers.
  • LEA subgrants include developing fair evaluation systems for teachers as well as hiring and retention plans.
  • Title II also includes LEA subgrants for “establishing, improving, or expanding model instructional programs to ensure that all children receive a well-rounded and complete education.”
  • The bill’s funding authorization level represents less than a two percent increase for Title I programs for each fiscal year through 2021.

Unfortunately, the Chairman’s new bill offers little support for music education. While the proposal grants a great deal of authority to the States to make appropriate decisions regarding the use of funds and development of assessment protocols, and that model could, potentially, bode well for our cause, we believe strongly that without increased federal support, music education will continue to take a backseat to other disciplines, and that is unacceptable. As such, the Music Education Policy Roundtable has offered to Committee staff, suggested improvements to this proposal, specifically, in the following areas: status of music education, accessibility, teacher evaluation, accountability, and teacher preparation. Further detail can be found on our “asks,” by accessing the Roundtable’s Winter 2015 ESEA Reauthorization Legislative Requests.

Given that little has been done thus far in any of these areas to buttress classroom music, we ask that all members of the greater music education community submit comments to Chairman Alexander’s HELP
staff, sharing the Roundtable’s legislative agenda, and asking for improved provisions for music in these key areas, between now and February 2nd.
It is our strong desire to continue working with both Republicans and Democrats willing to make music education a national priority.

Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee

Republican Members:

Democratic Members:

Alexander, Lamar (TN) , Chairman
Enzi, Michael B. (WY)
Burr, Richard (NC)
Isakson, Johnny (GA)
Paul, Rand (KY)
Collins, Susan M. (ME)
Murkowski, Lisa (AK)
Kirk, Mark (IL)
Scott, Tim (SC)
Hatch, Orrin G. (UT)
Roberts, Pat (KS)
Cassidy, Bill (LA)

Murray, Patty (WA), Ranking Member
Mikulski, Barbara A. (MD)
Sanders, Bernard (VT)
Casey, Robert P. (PA)
Franken, Al (MN)
Bennet, Michael F. (CO)
Whitehouse, Sheldon (RI)
Baldwin, Tammy (WI)
Murphy, Christopher (CT)
Warren, Elizabeth (MA)

Christopher Woodside, Assistant Executive Director, and Shannon Kelly, Director of Advocacy, January 15, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (