Academic Achievement for All: Straight A's Act (12-20-99)

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the main legislation for K-12 education programs in the Department of Education, is a hot topic in the 106th Congress.  Partially in response to strong constituent demand for change, members of Congress see education reform as a major election-year issue.  As the reauthorization process moves ahead, Congress is discussing the appropriate role and scope of federal control over education, a highly partisan debate.  Differences of opinion in the federal government's role in education have produced several versions of reauthorization legislation, but these different bills will have to be incorporated into a single bill later in the legislative process.  Meanwhile, the House and Senate will continue to hold hearings and debate the various bills.

Three things are complicating the reauthorization process for ESEA.  First, the House and Senate decided to approach it in very different ways.  The House of Representatives is reauthorizing each titles of the act as a separate bill.  Second, the full House Education and the Workforce Committee is working on the reauthorization, instead of the standard system in which the subcommittee holds hearings and mark-up before passing it to the full committee for consideration.  And third, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has decided to reauthorize ESEA as a single bill.  These different styles and different versions of the bill will affect the timetable for reauthorization.

On June 22, Rep. William Goodling (R-PA) introduced H.R. 2300, the Academic Achievement for All Act (aka the Straight A's Act), a bill that would give states more flexibility in using federal funds for education, "in exchange for being held accountable for meeting, in a five-year period, certain performance goals which they propose." The bill is strongly supported by the House Republican leadership, and on October 21 the bill passed in a partisan 213-208 vote.  Overall, the bill is the leadership's proposal for reauthorization of Title XIV, the general provision section, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Very little of the legislation is directed at science and math education, but as with many of the other ESEA reauthorization bills, small victories are possible when representatives propose amendments with language geared at math and science professional development and assessments.

The Straight A's Act would give states the option to make an agreement with the Department of Education giving state educational agencies more freedom in using federal funds in exchange for accountability, increasing student performance, and narrowing achievement gaps.  Under the act, up to ten states could enter into a five-year performance agreement that the Department of Education would review before accepting.  "Under approved agreements, states would be able to combine funds from a few or all of the Federal K-12 education programs they administer at the State level and freed from the requirements of those individual programs."  Also, important for science and math educators, this bill would allow states to use Eisenhower funds for any program; there is no requirement to use it for science and math education, and states do not have to demonstrate that professional development needs for math and science educators is being met.

States participating in the Straight A's Act would receive the same allocation for these programs as non-participating states.  Programs eligible for inclusion in the act include: Title I, Eisenhower Professional Development, Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, Safe and Drug-Free Schools, Emergency Immigrant Education Act, McKinney Education Homeless Assistance Act, Title VI block grant, Class Size Reduction, Goals 2000, and Perkins Vocational Education.

According to the background given by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the bill "is similar to the concept of charter schools: grant freedom from regulations and requirements in exchange for accountability for producing results."  Many people have spoken out against the Straight A's Act, saying that the partisan bill goes against the strides made early this year in passing the bipartisan H.R. 2, the Student Results Act of 1999, which passed the House of Representatives on October 21.  Also, opponents to the bill believe that the assessments called for in the state performance reviews are not stringent enough, especially in science, math and reading.  The House Committee on Education and the Workforce released a report that includes the full text of the bill along with majority and minority views on the legislation.

After passing the House in October, H.R. 2300 was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.  A companion bill, S. 1266 was introduced into the Senate in June by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA) and referred to the HELP Committee.

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 December 20, 1999

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