In March, President Barack Obama set a deadline for Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act by the start of the coming school year.
But given the on-going debt-ceiling battle and fights over what deserves government funding, reaching that deadline seem like less and less of a reality. However, that's not stopping lobbyists from pushing for what they believe in when it comes childhood education.
During the first quarter of the year, 153 organizations lobbied on issues referencing NCLB or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, research by the Center for Responsive Politics shows. Because lobbying reports do not require an itemized accounting of how much money is spent on any particular issue, a precise dollar amount for money spent on lobbying regarding NCLB and ESEA re-authorization is not available. But, during the first quarter, all groups within the education industry spent $22.6 million on lobbying on all of their issues, according to the Center's research.
Of these 153 groups, by the Center's count, at least 47 percent -- 72 organizations -- tout education issues as their primary focus.
And a wide-range of other industries is also represented by these lobbyists, including women's rights, health and welfare policy and gay and lesbian rights. Even the American Chemical Society has lobbied on the No Child Left Behind re-authorization.
No Child Left Behind, the name of the 2002 set of amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was first up for re-authorization in 2007. But Congress was unable to agree on a set of reforms that year. Instead, every year since then, Congress has been appropriating funding on an annual basis, effectively extending the law and staving off the need for reauthorization.
This year, for the first time, those organizations lobbying on NCLB are finally seeing some legislative action and a presidential commitment.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which is chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), has been a hot bed of activity -- marking up three bills related to the law so far this year, and drafting two others.
"Chairman Kline has made it a committee priority to address the ESEA reauthorization through a series of reforms," said Jennifer Allen, the committee's press secretary, in an email to OpenSecrets Blog.
The three bills marked up by the Committee on Education and the Workforce are:
- the Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act, which cuts funding to 43 programs and was passed by the House in a 112-106 vote in June;
- the Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act, which favors voucher programs and was passed by the committee in June;
- and the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, which was passed by the committee on July 13 and would allow states and school districts greater flexibility in deciding how to use federal money.
"There is a bigger [lobbying] push now because there is some congressional action," Jack Jennings, president of the Center for Education Policy, told OpenSecrets Blog.
Specific analysis of the lobbying on these bills is not yet available, as they were all introduced during the second- or third-quarter of the year. Only first-quarter lobbying reports have been filed with Congress. Second-quarter lobbying reports are due to be filed with the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House today.
Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, said the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have all been major players in the lobbying fight regarding the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.
All four groups declined to provide comment to OpenSecrets Blog for this story.
The National Education Association, a public sector union, spent more than $1.7 million during the first quarter of the year on lobbying. Lobbying reports for the group say it "monitored and tracked issues regarding reauthorization," according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics.
All the while, the NEA has maintained a large presence of people on the ground lobbying for its cause: During the April congressional recess, 170 NEA members across the country lobbied their individual members of Congress on behalf of NCLB reauthorization, according to an article on Education Votes, a website run by the NEA.
On a members-only page of its website, the NEA posted a training video on how to lobby, policy documents to print out and a lobby checklist, according to the article.
Furthermore, the NEA sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in May highlighting specific provisions of NCLB that it believes need to be changed and amended.
And the NEA isn't the only group targeting Duncan.
In May, two other organizations, the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, petitioned Duncan to use his regulatory powers to prevent schools from being punished if they failed to meet the yearly progress standards as Congress continues moving on legislation.
The American Association of School Administrators spent $70,000 lobbying during the first quarter of 2011, according to the Center's research. No lobbying reports have been filed for the National School Boards Association, suggesting they do not engage in enough lobbying activities each quarter to warrant submitting this paperwork.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than $17 million on lobbying during the first quarter of the year.
On its website, the Chamber outlines its views on NCLB reauthorization. It supports stronger accountability provisions for low-performing schools. It also stresses the importance of flexibility for states and schools on how to measure progress.
"Comprehensive policy changes to the law must be done through the congressional legislative process," the website goes on to state, "and not through an arbitrary waiver or regulatory process."
Additionally, the Business Roundtable, lobbied on improving the quality of K-12 education, specifically in regards to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the Center's research shows. During the first quarter, it spent about $2.6 million its lobbying efforts.
The group is an organization of chief executive officers around the country who work to shape public policy, according to its website.
The American Federation of Teachers, unsurprisingly, focused on issues regarding teacher retention, teacher effectiveness and teacher evaluation, as well as child nutrition in schools, the Center's research shows. The group spent about $180,000 on lobbying during the first quarter of the year.
Although these bills are finally seeing legislative attention, there are still hurdles in reauthorization.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions set a goal of introducing an overhaul bill by late April, but it has yet to do so. And once, or if, all five House bills pass, they will need to be rolled in to one and reconciled with a Senate bill, Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, said.
Jennings predicts that a full reauthorization bill will not pass through both chambers by the end of the 112th Congress next year. And given the anti-government spending tone of most Republicans, the annual re-appropriation that's happened every other year to keep the current law going might not be a smooth process either.
"It won't be an easy appropriation like it has been since 2007," Jennings told OpenSecrets Blog. "This time there will be a fight."
Although No Child Left Behind passed in 2002 with wide, bipartisan support, the law has been the subject of heavy criticism throughout its almost 10 years of existence.
Some of the most contested portions of the law include standards for measuring progress, pulling funding from schools labeled "failures" and universal testing standards for all children, regardless of family income, disability or other factors.
Center for Responsive Politics researcher Sarah Bryner contributed to this report.