The Republican-led House on Friday approved a significant rewrite of the No Child Left Behind education law, rejecting a key legislative victory of former President George W. Bush.
The proposal would essentially repeal the law by sharply curbing the federal government’s role in education matters. Instead, state and local governments would be given more authority to determine how best to improve their schools.
The proposal passed by a vote of 221-207. No Democrats supported it, while only 12 Republicans voted “no.”
The measure would stop No Child Left Behind’s testing and teacher evaluation systems, instead giving states and local school districts responsibility for establishing ways for benchmarking student achievement.
House Republican leaders said their “Student Success Act” eliminates ineffective and duplicative federal programs while directing federal dollars to where they’re needed most.
“For too long, our education system has failed too many, especially those trapped in poverty who are forced to attend failing schools,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "The [bill] will remove mandates on our local schools, allow federal dollars to follow our most vulnerable children to better schools and make it easier for states to expand charter and magnet school opportunities for students.”
Democrats said that while reforms are needed for No Child Left Behind, the Republican effort goes way too far by removing key accountability provisions for schools. They also say it establishes a separate and unequal track for students with disabilities.
Democrats mockingly called the bill the “Letting Students Down Act.”
“This bill is a classic example of how this Republican majority has capitulated to its more extreme elements,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md. “I hope Republicans will stop playing politics with the education of our students and with our economic competitiveness.”
Republican leaders denied they were gutting a law Bush initially proposed, saying their effort “builds on and adapts” provisions in the law that worked while reforming those that didn’t.
“I remain proud of what we accomplished more than a decade ago, but the simple fact is that our nation’s education policies are long overdue for an update,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The 2002 law called for all students to be proficient at reading and math at their grade level or higher by 2014. But the Obama administration has offered states waivers if they come up with their own plan to prepare students for college or the workforce. So far, 39 states and the District of Columbia have been granted waivers.
The House bill is likely to go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate. And if it did, it faces a potential veto threat from the White House, which said the measure “represent(s) a significant step backwards in the effort to help our nation’s children and their families prepare for their futures.”
The Senate has its own No Child Left Behind reform bill that also calls for states to have more power to run their schools. But unlike the House measure, the Senate version would give the federal education secretary a final say in state school plans.
The Senate likely will consider its bill after the month-long August recess.