Partisan bickering has stood in the way of debate and passage of a new comprehensive education reform bill to replace the aging No Child Left Behind Act. Now, for the first time in 12 years, federal lawmakers are debating an actual legislative alternative, although its future is far from certain.
Lyndsey Lauton of The Washington Post reports that after debating the measure last week, House members voted to pass the H.R. 5, also known as the Student Success Act. The bill was sponsored by Minnesota's John Kline among others.
Although the bill mustered enough support to pass in the House, it is far from a bipartisan effort. President Barack Obama has already threatened a veto if the bill makes it to his desk.
Member after member rose to talk about the importance of quality public education, but they offered vastly different views about whether the bill on the floor would achieve it. Two lawmakers from Nevada, Republican Joe Heck and Democrat Dina Titus, said the bill was terrific and terrible, respectively.
The GOP bill would update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, created by Congress in 1965 to distribute federal dollars primarily to help children who are poor, disabled or English language learners. Those dollars represent about 10 percent of funding for public schools; local communities and states provide the rest.
The bill rolls back almost all federal oversight provisions of No Child Left Behind. SSA would leave it to the states to set their own student progress goals and would prohibit the US Department of Education from mandating the adoption of Common Core Standards.
Specifically, the bill would do away with yearly progress goals (AYP) that would have required states to have 100% of their students at grade level in reading and math by next year. After it became unlikely that many states would meet the goal or that a legislative solution changing the target was near, Obama administration officials started granting states waivers from the requirements in exchange for comprehensive education reform plans to help reach the targets in coming years.
Kline's bill would sharply shrink the federal role in K-12 public schools and mark a departure from No Child Left Behind, which had significantly expanded federal authority in local school matters.
"We have sought to recalibrate the federal role, undoing the excesses of the past," said Kline, whose bill is supported by the National School Boards Association. Several Republicans said they would have liked to delete the federal government's involvement altogether. "Many of my Republican colleagues and I feel the federal government should be out of education," said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), adding that the bill was "a step in the right direction."