On January 28, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed the Strengthening Education through Research Act (S. 227). The bill reauthorizes the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA). ESRA authorizes funding for the research activities of the U.S. Department of Education, including the Institute for Education Sciences (IES). The legislation would authorize an appropriation of $612 million for fiscal year (FY) 2016 and $3.2 billion between 2016-2020 to support federal educational research, statistical analysis, and other activities.
HELP Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) noted that “research on education can be very helpful to states, teachers, and school districts, but it has to be relevant and accessible, and this bill will go a long way to making it more useful for the people who need it most.”
Ranking Member Patty Murray noted that S.227 “is the result of strong bipartisan work, and represents an important step toward ensuring our nation develops relevant and timely research on how to provide all students with access to a high-quality public education.”
The Committee highlighted the bill’s provisions, including those that would:
- Require IES to identify research topics focused on ensuring that all students have the ability to obtain a high-quality education, improving access to and the quality of early childhood education, strengthening elementary and secondary schools, and increasing access to and completion of postsecondary education.
- Strengthen privacy provisions to ensure personally identifiable information collected by IES is secure and protected.
- Streamline and reduce duplication within the federal education research system by authorizing the consolidation or elimination of federal research laboratories and centers that are not effective, reducing the number of Comprehensive Centers from 22 to 17, and increasing coordination between laboratories and centers.
- Authorize increases in the federal investment in research and technical assistance, including a substantial increase in funding for special education research.
S.227 would also prohibit the use of federal funding “to establish a nationwide database of individually identifiable information, as well as to mandate, direct, or control educational standards, curricula, or assessments.”
In 2014, the House passed similar legislation by voice vote, followed by HELP Committee passage of a similar version. The bill was developed as a bipartisan agreement between the House and Senate.