The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, unveiled a few days back by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray and scheduled for HELP Committee mark-up on April 14, is a remarkable piece of work. The mere fact that it’s bipartisan is remarkable enough, given the polarized state of Capitol Hill nowadays. But it’s also a reasonable, forward-looking compromise among strongly divergent views of the federal role in K–12 education—and between the overreach (and attendant backlash) of NCLB and some people’s conviction that NCLB didn’t reach far enough.
The draft has received much applause—some of it muted, some tentative—from many quarters (including the Obama administration). Indeed, some Washington wags have remarked that if so many different factions are saying nice things about it, either they haven’t actually read it or there must be something wrong with it! I like most of it myself, though I (as with perhaps everyone else who has said anything positive) hope that the refinements to be offered in committee and on the floor will yield something that I like even better.
I’m mindful, though, that the amending process in the Senate alone is where bipartisanship could get unstuck. This is to say nothing of what might happen if and when it gets to conference with the House Republicans’ version of an ESEA reauthorization, currently awaiting floor action.
Sound education policy for American children is more important than bipartisanship but, in today’s divided government, we’re even less likely to get to the former if we can’t sustain some form of the latter. That could mean everybody holding their noses over provisions they don’t like, even while agreeing that the totality is an improvement over current law—and that nothing better is likely to come along anytime soon.
In fact, the Alexander-Murray bill is a notable improvement over current law. And the fact that they could agree on it carries us closer to the ridiculously overdue reauthorization of ESEA than we’ve been at any point since the flaws of NCLB became apparent a decade ago.
Yes, my memories of Pat Moynihan (and recent reminders of Ted Kennedy) have made me a bit nostalgic. But the agreement between two smart, hardworking senators more interested in getting something done than preaching from the pulpit recalls a time when lawmakers on both sides of the aisle understood that their job was to make sound laws (and fix unsound ones), not to babble in echo chambers, filibuster on the floor, and sacrifice something good in the fruitless pursuit of something that looks more perfect.
– Chester E. Finn, Jr.
This first appeared on Flypaper.