- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

A growing number of Republicans — including a few key House leaders — are campaigning for a proposal that would let states opt out of many of the regulations of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law, and some say they will try to block the law’s renewal if their proposal isn’t included.

“We need to destroy the myth that bureaucrats in Washington care more about our children’s education than parents,” said Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, who is leading at least 51 other House Republicans — including Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and conservative caucus leader Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas — in attempting to “get the heavy hand of government off of education.”

“It’s time to cut the red tape,” agreed Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican spearheading the effort in the Senate along with Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican.

The 2002 NCLB law — one of Mr. Bush’s top domestic accomplishments — is up for renewal this year. Mr. DeMint said he will try to add the state-flexibility proposal to NCLB renewal legislation when it comes to the Senate floor. But if he and other supporters aren’t able to do that, “we’ll do everything we can” to stop the bill, he said.

The NCLB law requires that students be able to read and do math on grade level by 2014 and mandates that states test annually, track progress and report results. There are federal penalties for schools that don’t keep up the pace. But state and local educators have complained that the law is a one-size-fits-all solution that buries teachers in paperwork and doesn’t allow for innovative ideas, said Mr. Hoekstra, Mr. DeMint and others.

If their plan is added to the law, it would let states opt to consolidate the various streams of federal education funding into one stream and use it as they see fit to educate their children. It also would let states opt out of NCLB testing requirements in favor of their own assessment and tracking plans.

Mr. Bush included a similar state-flexibility proposal in his original NCLB proposal back in 2001, the Republican lawmakers said, but it was stripped out by the time the bill became law.

Mr. Hoekstra believes this year the idea will pick up steam among governors and Republican and Democrat lawmakers — especially if Mr. Bush and other lawmakers seek to extend NCLB’s testing requirements, as many believe will happen. “You’ll have a lot of people nervous about that,” he said.

The Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate education panels oppose the effort.

There are about 11 House Republicans who voted in favor of NCLB and are now supporting the state-flexibility plan. Mr. Blunt is one who helped pass the law, but said he regrets his vote after hearing from frustrated state and local leaders.

Republican leaders yesterday downplayed any perceived fissures among Republicans on the issue — House Minority Leader John A. Boehner said Republicans will “work together” to get more flexibility for states and parents in NCLB, though he hasn’t signed on to Mr. Hoekstra’s bill. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, echoed similar sentiments.

White House spokesman Tony Snow was optimistic yesterday that NCLB will be renewed this year, and shrugged off these early divisions.

“There are plenty of conversations that are ongoing. But the president feels confident that we’re going to get reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, and, furthermore, that it’s vital to American students,” he said.

Mr. DeMint said he thinks Mr. Bush still supports the idea of more state flexibility, but is probably afraid that adding such a provision to NCLB now will “kill” any chances for renewing the law, which Mr. Bush “wants to keep the [NCLB] program as part of his legacy.”

But he said conservatives still “need his help” to make the law more flexible.

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