- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

House Republicans brushed aside a White House veto threat Wednesday evening and passed a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law by just five votes, muscling through an overhaul of education policy that shifts power from the federal government to the states after a legislative false start earlier this year.

The bill by Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, Minnesota Republican, won approval on a 218-213 vote and would move measures of school performance from a system of high-stakes national testing to state accountability programs, while replacing dozens of federal programs with local block grants for the states to spend as they like.

Its GOP backers said the federal government is sticking its nose into local education and spending more, only to see static results.

“There is no silver bullet to fix our education system, but increasing freedom and accountability is the most basic step to provide opportunity for the next generation,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said. “The Student Success Act achieves this by letting states, school districts, and, most importantly, families decide what is best for their children.”

No Democrats voted for the bill, and 27 Republicans opposed it.

Although the original law is widely unpopular, the White House has criticized rewrites of the law under consideration in both chambers, stressing the persistence of large achievement gaps between the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and those in the rest of the schools. The administration has, however, stopped short of saying President Obama would veto the Senate version.


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The upper chamber’s bill would ease federal control of schools while ensuring that states remain accountable and pursue challenging academic standards for all students. Those competing priorities had prevented Congress from reworking No Child Left Behind since President George W. Bush advanced it more than a decade ago.

Teachers, parents, students, school board members and politicians of all kinds have pushed for a reworking of the 2002 law and its heavy reliance on standardized testing to demonstrate student progress, which critics say resulted in a generation of public school students who learned how to take tests on reading and math rather than mastering the subjects themselves.

The House revived its version after pulling the bill in February because it faced opposition from conservatives who charged it didn’t do enough to get the federal bureaucracy out of local school decisions.

On Wednesday, the chamber passed an amendment by Rep. Matt Salmon, Arizona Republican, that would let parents opt their student out of federal testing without it hurting a state’s overall participation rate.

But it defeated a second measure — backed by conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth — to let states opt out of federal mandates and still keep their block grants.

Democrats blasted both of those measures and a section of the underlying bill that allows public funds to follow low-income students from one traditional or charter school to another of the parent’s choice, a pro-school choice concept known as “portability.”

“In short, portability is a ruse — one that takes resources from, rather than gives to, our most underserved and needy children,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat, who urged the bill’s drafters to go “back to the drawing board.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, tried and failed Wednesday to add a portability provision to the Senate version.

Mr. Alexander, chairman of the Senate’s education committee, co-authored the upper chamber’s bill with Washington state’s Sen. Patty Murray, the panel’s ranking Democrat.

The Senate bill keeps the mandatory standardized testing and reporting of student achievement, while removing federal penalties on schools that perform badly, leaving it up to the states to decide how to hold schools accountable and distribute federal education dollars.

It would forbid the federal government from coercing states into accepting programs such as the Common Core, a set of education standards that have conservatives blasted as a prime example of federal overreach.

S.A. Miller contributed to this story.


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