By Lucy Gettman
Deputy Associate Executive Director, Federal Advocacy and Public Policy

Anyone who has ever watched C-SPAN may raise an eyebrow. With seemingly endless procedural votes, quorum calls and other deliberations, does anything actually happen on the House and Senate floor? It certainly did on July 9, when NSBA’s three-day “amendment watch” concluded with the adoption of the Fischer-King-Tester amendment to reaffirm local governance in S. 1177 (The Every Child Achieves Act), the Senate ESEA reauthorization bill. After months of work, the words “The amendment is agreed to” were as game-changing as “And the Oscar goes to…”

NSBA Destination Imagination Closing Ceremony
The Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act on July 9, 2015.

But rewind to July 7, when Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) stood before the Senate to introduce her amendment . A few brief minutes later, Senator Fischer had described her bipartisan amendment – also supported by Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Jon Tester (D-MT) – to prevent federal intrusion into how local schools are governed and ensure that local stakeholders have a stronger voice in both regulatory and guidance policy processes.

Senator Fischer discusses her amendment ensuring local governance.

The intervening days from introduction to voice vote kept us glued to our screens. And we stayed there for a total of eight legislative days while the Senate acted upon 78 amendments. Two Calls to Action later (one to oppose vouchers and one to pass the bill and keep momentum going on ESEA reauthorization), and the Senate approved S. 1177 with a vote of 81 yeas to 17 nays.

To add to the excitement, the House of Representatives brought their ESEA bill (H.R. 5) back to the floor at the same time. After a five-month hiatus, The Student Success Act was passed on July 8.

When the dust settled, both bills reflected two of NSBA’s top priorities: 1) affirmation of local governance and 2) omission of private school vouchers.

NSBA Destination Imagination Closing Ceremony

In short, Congress has made more progress to reauthorize the ESEA during the first six months of the 114th Congress than it had in the preceding seven years. How did it happen? What happens next?

Single party control – with a bipartisan twist

The 114th Congress is under single party control – and yet there is more bipartisan effort to craft an ESEA reauthorization than one might expect under the circumstances.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved a bill (H.R. 5, the Student Success Act) with no prior hearings and no Democratic support. It took months for the bill to pass the full House of Representatives, and even with the addition of several Democratic amendments, ultimately no Democrats voted for the bill. That is not the end of the story, however.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee was far more bipartisan during its markup of S. 1177 (the Every Child Achieves Act) and the bill was approved by the Committee with a unanimous vote.  Senate floor consideration, described above, also resulted in overwhelming bipartisan support.

Next steps:

The next step is for House and Senate leaders to try to reconcile their respective bills, and this takes us back to the House of Representatives. After Senate passage of S. 1177, Rep. Kline (R-MN), Chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, stated “There is a lot of work that lies ahead, but I am confident we will find common ground and send a bill to the president’s desk that helps ensure every child in every school receives an excellent education.”

So the “secret sauce” for reauthorizing ESEA is clearly to work in a bipartisan manner on behalf of America’s public schoolchildren. It takes all of us working together – and that really is must-watch TV.


Continue to follow @NSBAComm and visit for updates on the ESEA reauthorization process.

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