The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has approved a new version of a comprehensive education bill, Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post reports. In a party-line vote of 23-16, the Republican-led committee passed the measure that will now be considered by the House of Representatives as a whole.
In contrast to the bill passed by the U.S. Senate, where Democrats hold a majority, the House version will ease oversight of the states that receive federal education dollars. Since the bills take a fundamentally different approach, the likelihood that a compromise version can be crafted to satisfy both chambers and get President Obama’s signature is low.
Current federal education law sets conditions and requirements for every public school receiving federal funds to educate poor students and those with special needs.
Under the House bill written by the education panel’s chairman, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), states would be able to set their own academic standards, decide whether schools are meeting them and decide what to do about underperforming schools.
The policy followed by the current administration allows states freedom to design their own standards, but the federal government is the final arbiter on what is considered adequate yearly student progress and sets out penalties including loss of funding for schools, districts and states that fail to meet the criteria.
According to Kline, such a tight grip strips states of the ability to make decisions about their own schools, including choosing approaches that work best to meet the unique needs of their students.
Democrats argued that Kline’s version takes the pressure off states to turn around the worst-performing schools.
“This Republican bill goes from closing the achievement gap to showing the achievement gap and just hoping someone does something,” said Rep. Jared Polis (Colo.). “Some of these schools have a dropout rate of 50 percent. Unless there is impetus for action, local inertia continues the status quo. The key here is to give the local superintendent flexibility to do what works, but not the flexibility to do nothing. And sometimes, nothing is the easiest course of action.”
The members of the committee also voted on the Democratic version of the bill, which was closer to the version passed by the Senate, but it was defeated on a party-line vote.