With the votes finally counted almost everywhere, the fancies of education policy wonks turn to ESEA/NCLB, long overdue for reauthorization—and the subject of many aches, pains, and kvetches. Will the new Congress finally tackle this problem in 2011? Can it work with the Administration? For that matter, can it work with itself? The President murmurs about bipartisanship in education. A few Congressional leaders have been meeting. But what might a bipartisan compromise entail? And would it make for good policy? Would it be good for kids? Let us take a look.
Whether ESEA moves forward in the 112th Congress is primarily up to one man: future House speaker John Boehner, himself no slouch as an education-policy shaper. He and his team will need to make a strategic/political decision about cooperating with the White House—on anything. There are plenty of reasons they may opt not to: Why give Obama any “wins” to run on in 2012, goes the thinking. But we’re not so sure. A “do-nothing” Congress is no formula for winning votes, either, and does anyone really believe that a national election will hinge on whether an education bill gets passed? We’re cautiously hopeful that Speaker Boehner will view ESEA reauthorization as a low-risk yet important undertaking, conceivably even a win-win. While it could be portrayed as an Obama victory, it might give his members something to show their constituents, too—at least if done right.
If the elephants and donkeys do choose to sit down at the same table, we believe they must keep two goals firmly in mind.