Education Proposal Sparks Debate in House Before Hearings

The top Democratic and Republican House members on the committee that will take up education reform voiced differing opinions on the White House's 45-page education blueprint today, as the committee gets ready for hearings on reform later this week.

George Miller, the California Democrat who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, appears fully on board with the proposal despite initial concerns voiced by teachers' unions; his Republican counterpart, Ranking Member John Kline (R-MN), sounds a bit skeptical.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will appear before the committee this Wednesday for a hearing on the White House education-reform blueprint, released over the weekend and formally sent to Congress today. Six school officials and education experts will testify before a subcommittee hearing on Thursday.

"We now have an incredible opportunity to help reshape the future of this country by overhauling ESEA [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act]. Secretary Duncan has said repeatedly that our students get one chance at an education.  This blueprint lays the right markers to help us reset the bar for our students and the nation," said California Democrat George Miller, the committee's chairman.

Miller is one of labor's allies in Congress, but it appears he's not letting the initial pushback from teachers' unions dampen his support for the White House proposal.

Ranking Member John Kline (R-MN), meanwhile, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan deserves credit for the proposal, but he questioned the idea of federal education reforms and said the White House blueprint marks an "intrusion" on state education policies. Kline issued this statement this morning:

Secretary Duncan deserves great credit for his bipartisan approach to reform. His willingness to take on the special interests and shake up the status quo are vital first steps to producing meaningful school improvement. Yet the real test always comes when words are translated into policy.

"I have long believed the parents, teachers, and school leaders on the front lines are best equipped to improve student achievement. Reforms originating in Washington, D.C. simply cannot respond to the unique challenges faced by individual students and schools, which is why education reform remains primarily the right and responsibility of states and local communities.

"The blueprint identifies many of the right goals for improving our schools and helping all students achieve their fullest potential. With these shared goals as a starting point, there are clearly still major differences from across the spectrum about the best path forward. Whether it's federal pressure to adopt national standards or prescriptive reporting and school management requirements, this blueprint has already sparked strong debate. 

"While I have questions and concerns about many of the specific proposals - particularly those that increase federal intrusion into our schools - I welcome the opportunity to continue debating what it means to ensure educational excellence now and into the future.