The Education Flexibility Partnership Act of 1999 (11-29-99)

In 1994, the President signed into law the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, a bipartisan bill to support "State efforts to develop clear and rigorous standards for what every child should know and be able to do, and supports comprehensive State- and district-wide planning and implementation of school improvement efforts focused on improving student achievement to those standards."  As a part of this bill, Congress introduced the Education Flexibility Partnership Demonstration Program (Ed-Flex), a pilot program in which twelve states were given more flexibility in using federal education funds for state and local improvement plan in exchange for improved accountability for student, school, and teacher results.  Included in the grants available for a waiver is the Eisenhower Professional Development Program, a program designed to help fund professional development for math and science educators.

Many school systems and politicians have hailed the pilot program a success.  Results from the twelve states -- Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont -- were very promising.  Bipartisan support for the Ed-Flex program remains strong, and in April 1999, President Clinton signed the Ed-Flex Partnership Act of 1999 into law, expanding the program to include all fifty states and U.S. territories.

Current Congress
Education is a major election year issue for all members of Congress.  Early in the 106th Congress, legislation was introduced to expand the Education Flexibility Partnership program to allow all states to participate.  The House version of the Ed-Flex Partnership Act of 1999 bill, H.R. 800, was introduced by Representatives Tim Roemer (D-IN) and Michael Castle (R-DE).  A companion bill, S. 280, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Bill Frist (R-TN).  On March 8, the House Education and Workforce Committee released their committee report on H.R. 800 and placed the bill on the House calendar.

Debate on the legislation included two amendments by Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), both trained scientists and vocal supporters of science and math education.  Ehlers's amendment to require state school systems to maintain "that the underlying purposes of the statutory requirements of each program or Act for which a waiver is granted continue to be met" passed the House.  The amendment proposed by Rep. Holt would have required state school systems applying for waivers of specific government programs to " include a description of how the professional development needs of its teachers in the areas of mathematics and science will be, or are being, met" in their application.  In a move to rally support for the amendment, Holt sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter to all House members that appears below.  Holt's amendment was defeated in a 204-218 vote.

The bill passed the House in a 330-90 vote and was sent to the Senate for consideration.  Once the bill was in the Senate, the body amended H.R. 800 by substituting the language in S. 280 for the original text.  After some discussion, the two chambers formed a conference committee to hash out differences.  A conference report was released on April 20, one day before H.R. 800 passed Congress.  President Clinton signed the Ed-Flex Act into law (Public Law 106-25) on April 29.

The Ed-Flex bill passed by Congress builds upon the foundation of the Education Flexibility Partnership Demonstration Program (Ed-Flex) included in the Goals 2000: Educating America Act.  H.R. 800 would expand the Ed-Flex program to allow all fifty states and US territories to participate.  "This expansion of the Ed-Flex authorizes the Secretary of Education to delegate to states the authority to waive certain federal statutory or regulatory requirements that interfere with states and districts implementing effective education reform plans."  States are eligible for Ed-Flex enrollment if it either has established or is working to establish assessments for Title I programs, primarily programs for disadvantaged and low-achieving students.  Once a state has put forth an approved plan, it is given the authority to judge local school districts' requests to waive certain requirements -- a judgement formally made by the Department of Education -- to meet its school improvement plan.

Programs eligible for waivers include:

To help ensure the success of education reform and that the participants continue to meet the underlying purpose of the federal programs included in Ed-Flex, the legislation incorporated several accountability measurements.  State and local education agencies, when applying for participation, must clearly present the objectives and measurable goals for schools and students affected by the waivers included in the overall education reform plan.  These agencies must submit annual performance reports, including data that they are moving toward their goals in their second year report.  After three years, the Secretary of Education must review the performance of participants before deciding to either renew (up to five years) or terminate a state's participation in Ed-Flex.

Rush Holt Dear Colleague Letter:

Dear Colleague:

This week, the House is expected to consider H.R. 800, the Education Flexibility Partnership Act. This bipartisan legislation is designed to give schools more flexibility in the administration of federal education programs.

As we give schools more flexibility, we should not inadvertently lose the successful priority given to math and science teacher training under the Eisenhower Professional Development Act.

I intend to offer a clarifying amendment to H.R. 800 that asks schools which are seeking to waive requirements to explain how they will keep their math and science teachers trained. It will preserve the importance of teacher training in math and science while still allowing schools to waive the math-science priority if they need help in other areas.

Consistent with the intent of the bill, this amendment allows each state to determine how the math-science priority will be enforced.

My amendment would require local schools who are applying for a waiver of the math-science priority under the Eisenhower Act to demonstrate in their application how the professional development needs of their teachers in math and science will be, or already are being, met.

Sources:  American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News, National Science Teachers Association website, Department of Education website, House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education, hearing testimony, and

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs

Posted November 29, 1999

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