NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Reauthorizing Federal Education Act

February 19, 1999

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is up for reauthorization this year and political observers expect a real wrestling match between Republicans and Democrats over it -- especially since education is such a hot issue among voters now.

  • With a budget of about $14 billion, the 34-year-old ESEA is the federal government's largest program affecting public schools.
  • ESEA's biggest program is Title I -- which distributes about $8 billion a year to school districts which have high percentages of poor children, and that use the money to hire extra reading teachers and promote family literacy, among other things.
  • In addition to Title I, there are so many other programs in ESEA -- ranging from teacher training to technology -- that it typically takes two years to reauthorize it for five years.
  • Last time around, the rewritten act filled up 1,200 pages.

Congress may debate adding a provision for school vouchers, although voucher legislation failed in the last Congress.

The primary debate, however, will be over allocation of the $8 billion in Title I grants. Some members of Congress want to "voucherize" them -- by having federal money sent directly to a poor youngster's school. Such a process would be in lieu of sending it to the states, which pass it to the districts, before it eventually reaches schools.

Source: June Kronholz, "Battle Looms on Hill Over Education Funding and Ideas," Wall Street Journal, February 19, 1999.


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