No Child Left Behind Likely No Closer to Reauthorization

Although the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind legislation has moved closer to becoming a reality, many still believe that we’re a long way from seeing a comprehensive bill on the President’s desk any time soon. The reauthorization measure, titled the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, weighs in at over 1,000 pages and rolls back some of the more onerous provisions of NCLB, passed through the Senate Education Committee this week.

The proposal, authored chiefly buy Iowa Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin, retains the requirement that states must report students’ achievement and continues to tie student performance to federal funding.

It’s hard to predict how far the measure will now go since even in its preliminary form it has already generated controversy. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the committee’s Republican ranking member, introduced his own version that deals with some of the criticism raised by his fellow party members — specifically that the bill represents too much of an incursion by the federal government into an area that’s best left to the states.

Harkin says he intends to bring his bill to the Senate floor sometime this year — hopefully by the fall — and would allow amendments to be made during that process. But even if the overhaul makes it through the floor vote, it is unlikely to be signed into law because the predominant legislative vision in the House varies significantly. On the House side, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who chairs the Education & the Workforce Committee, introduced a bill similar to Alexander’s and has scheduled a markup for next week.

Although the bill has the necessary 51 votes in the Senate, much like many other recent legislative efforts, it is likely to die due to a Republican-threatened filibuster. If that happens, then NCLB will remain  in effect as a number of states will continue to take advantage of the waivers from the law’s more stringent provisions granted by the Department of Education, while those who have not sought waivers or were denied will function under its existing regulations.

No Child Left Behind is the name of the 2001 bipartisan reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The measure, which expired in 2007, amplified the federal government’s footprint in the country’s schools by requiring that schools with low-income students meet annual goals, as determined by standardized tests, to qualify for federal money. If schools do not meet these annual goals, they face escalating consequences. Since then, the law has been criticized as overly punitive and for creating a culture of “teaching to the test.”

Now, the House and Senate are working to rewrite the bill in the context of tighter fiscal conditions and the Obama administration’s waiver system that all but gutted the law.