09/29/2015 10:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Boehner's Exit and the ESEA Reauthorization: What Next?


On Friday morning, September 25, 2015, Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH) announced that he would be retiring at the end of October.

My first thought was about the fate of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), the latest version of which is the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).

NCLB was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007. It never happened. The passage of NCLB required both major political parties to work together in a way that is relatively unheard of in Washington.

That should have been a clue in 2001. How would both parties manage to reauthorize the bill six years later? It wouldn't happen, and hasn't happened, and we are nearing the close of 2015.

But it did look like both House and Senate would manage to work together to arrive at a compromise bill based upon the House ESEA reauthorization version, Rep. John Kline's (R-MN) Student Success Act (SSA), and the Senate ESEA reauthorization version, Sens. Lamar Alexander's (R-TN) and Patty Murray's (D-WA) Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA).

Both SSA and ECAA passed their respective houses in July 2015. Then Congress took a break in August and was supposed to form a conference committee to work on consolidating SSA and ECAA into a single bill to put before Congress for a vote.

But the ESEA reauth compromise bill would need to satisfy President Obama, who would need to sign the bill into law.

Here is where navigating the process of the ESEA rewrite becomes trickiest: The bill would need the approval of both right-wing Republicans and a Democratic president to pass.

As Speaker of the House, Boehner would have played a key role in negotiating not just two major political parties, but the spectrum of conservative-to-liberal views that comprise those two parties.

However, generally speaking, the right-wing Republicans wanted Boehner to behave in a more right-wing-Republican manner, and he did not do so to their liking. So, they threatened to remove him. (For more details on Boehner, see this excellent article in the September 26, 2015, Washington Post.)

It appears that the moment of decision for Boehner to decide to retire came after meeting with five conservatives late Thursday afternoon, September 24, 2015. On Friday morning, he announced his intent to leave Congress at the end of October.

It is likely that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will become the next Speaker.

As noted in the September 26, 2015, Washington Post article, in his last weeks of office, it does not appear likely that Boehner will focus his attention on the ESEA reauthorization, instead turning his attention to a stop-gap spending bill to keep the federal government operating for another three months, and perhaps to "raising the debt ceiling, reauthorizing the Export-Import bank and passing a long-term highway bill."

Once Boehner is gone, his likely replacement, McCarthy, will not have an established operational base and might not take on the ESEA reauth for fear of offending potential supporters. In short, McCarthy is expected to accomplish nothing of note for the rest of 2015, and then, we roll into 2016- an election year. In 2007, the NCLB reauthorization stalled and was not expected to have any noteworthy action taken on it in 2008 because 2008 was an election year.

So, here we are again: A situation in which ESEA reauthorization appears to stall (this time because of Boehner's resignation). In the current situation it is not that the members of the ESEA conference committee are not working on consolidating the bills; it's a question of arriving at a single bill that will pass a volatile House (which barely passed SSA, 218-213), Senate, and garner Obama's signature.

A tall order.

It seems that ESEA might be put on hold until the next president is elected. Such is not certain but appears to be highly likely.

Until the next ESEA reauthorization, America is left with defunct NCLB and a US secretary of education who can wield power via so-called NCLB waivers. But the American public is growing increasingly tired of even the "waivered" emphasis on the punitive, demoralizing, expensive, curriculum-narrowing, high-stakes testing that has sadly become a signature feature of ESEA, especially in NCLB. So, if there is no ESEA reauthorization in 2015-16 (including an opt-out provision relief valve), there are likely to be showdowns between the Wielder of the Waivers and states in which the number of parents opting their children out of high-stakes testing escalates.

If New York in 2015 is any indication, even though 20 percent of students opted out of federally mandated testing in grades 3 through 8, the federal government did not strong-arm the state via fiscal penalties-- a wise decision given that there is a presidential race looming, and Democrat Obama and Democrat Arne Duncan must pay attention to not behave in ways that connect "Democrat in the White House" with "federal overreach" (though these two, Obama and Duncan, have clearly overstepped, as evidenced by the ESEA reauth language seeking to limit the role of the US secretary of education).

And somehow, teachers still teach, and students still learn. Amazing.

Originally posted 09-26-15 at

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who's Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.


She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.