House Passes Bill to Overhaul NCLB, Senate Works on Bipartisan Revision


The US House of Representatives passed Rep. John Kline’s enormous overhaul of No Child Left Behind this week, but did so without a single Democratic vote.

The House appears to be more conservative than when Kline’s “Student Success Act” was discussed earlier this year. Kline faced major roadblocks then from the Republicans’ Tea Party coalition. This same bill passed with no problem in the last session of Congress, which was less conservative.

Allison Sherry, reporting for the Star Tribune, said the passage came after the House Education and Workforce Committee’s chairman accepted some amendments, one of which was supported by the Heritage Foundation.

The Tea Party group made it clear they would not accept the measure a few months ago because of their ongoing objection to government overreach. The amendment made by the Heritage Foundation allows states to opt out of federal requirements without having any federal dollars taken away. That bill did not succeed.

“After years of working with education stakeholders and members of Congress, I’m pleased the House has advanced responsible reforms that would give the American people what they deserve: a commonsense law that will help every child in every school receive an excellent education,” said Kline.

Meanwhile, the US Senate is working on a more bipartisan revision for No Child Left Behind, which has been adopted by the education committee and is supported by several leading Democrats. If the Senate’s version is passed, Kline and leaders in the Senate will likely work together to establish an alternative that will be more acceptable to Democrats.

House Democrats rejected it because it offered too much flexibility for states as far as accountability and because of the funding cuts to schools. Rep. Keith Ellison, who is chairman of the progressive caucus, stated this week:

“Educating all children, regardless of their zip code, is one of the most important challenges we face as a nation. Equity must be at the heart of any attempt to overhaul our education system. But the Student Success Act does little to help kids in Minnesota who are struggling in schools with too few resources.”

The vote in the House was close at 218-213, and included giving states more freedom to choose tests that evaluate students’ performance. Still, the measure did not go far enough for conservatives, who were hoping for an option to get rid of the annual tests that measure student achievement entirely. A controversial provision that did remain intact gave parents the ability to opt their children out of annual testing and would allow schools to omit those students from student participation requirements, writes Bruce Alpert of The Times-Picayune.

There is a provision in the bill that allows federal funding for low-income students that would follow the student even to a school with a mostly wealthy student body. According to Republicans, the bill returns control to parents, local school boards, and the state education departments, allowing controversial tests to be rejected in lieu of an alternative.

 “In the New Orleans area, we have served as the model for how to transform a failed urban education system by empowering parents with more choices, and I am proud that we are leading the way for the rest of the nation in ensuring that our children are prepared to seize the limitless opportunities they deserve to achieve the American Dream,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Jefferson).

Education Secretary Arne Duncan does not believe the bill helps struggling schools, nor the students being taught there. He adds that in his opinion, the House Republicans have taken a bad bill and made it worse. Duncan sees no support for schools and educators and claims resources are being taken away.

House Speaker John Boehner stated the bill is offering much-needed educational changes and is replacing “top-down mandates with conservative reforms that empower the parents, teachers and administrators at the heart of our education system,” according to Jennifer C. Kerr, reporting for the Associated Press.

Maggie Severns, Kimberly Hefling, and Jake Sherman of Politico say Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee, believes the proposed provision which would allow low-income parents to choose to spend federal aid in whichever school they deem best for their children would “solve inequality in America by giving children the opportunity to attend a better school.”

The Obama administration has been clear that it will veto if the House bill reaches the president’s desk.