- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2013

After years of failed attempts to replace the widely maligned No Child Left Behind education law, lawmakers are giving it one more try.

For the past three days, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans and House Republicans have each put forward a bill to rewrite federal education policy. The details differ, but all sides agree that a permanent legislative fix is better than the current system, which gives a great deal of power to the federal government.

With the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law having fallen out of favor with virtually everyone in the education community, the Obama administration in its first term unveiled an ambitious waiver program, freeing states from the mandates and deadlines of the law signed by President George W. Bush — widely viewed as unrealistic — if their reform plans were approved by the Education Department.

Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have been granted waivers so far, but there still exists in Congress and in the states a desire to find a long-term solution.

House Republicans unveiled their reform blueprint that would take much of the initiative for reform away from the administration and give it to the states.

“Students and families deserve a better law, one that encourages innovation and supports state and local flexibility,” said Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Mr. Kline, along with Rep. Todd Rokita, Indiana Republican, on Thursday introduced the “Student Success Act,” which eliminates many of the most onerous parts of NCLB, such as the “adequate yearly progress” metric.

It also would allow states to craft their own accountability systems and set their own standards for student achievement. The measure would eliminate any federally mandated intervention for poor-performing schools, leaving such action to the states.

The proposal put forth by Senate Democrats also repeals many of the most unpopular parts of NCLB, but includes more detailed prescriptions for what states must do.

The “Strengthening America’s Schools Act” would allow states to set their own accountability systems provided they focus on student achievement and growth, English language proficiency for those learning the language and other requirements.

The bill also calls on states to identify and support “priority schools” and “focus schools,” institutions where student performance is low or where achievement gaps between ethnic or other groups remain high.

“We’re not going to fix public education from Washington, but we can drive reform at the local level,” said Sen. Michael F. Bennet, Colorado Democrat and member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. All 11 Democratic members back the bill, which was introduced by committee Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Not to be outdone, their Republican counterparts released the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act” on Thursday. It gives state and local governments control over how to fix underperforming schools; gives the states the power to define their own standards; encourages charter schools; and offers flexibility in how to spend federal funds.

“The best way to help 50 million children in 100,000 public schools learn what they need to know and be able to do is to fix that responsibility squarely where it belongs — on parents, teachers, communities and states,” said Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, ranking Republican on the Senate education panel.