House Passes No Child Left Behind Overhaul
With the clock ticking toward the 2014 deadline for all schools to meet mandated targets of the No Child Left Behind Act that are now viewed as unattainable, the House of Representatives voted last week to pass an overhaul of the act along strictly partisan lines.
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the House bill, saying that it represents a significant step backward. The Senate is considering its own overhaul and the two chambers could work out a compromise on education reform.
The House passed The Student Success Act by a 221 to 207 vote, with 12 Republicans voting against it and no Democrats voting for it. Under the bill, more control of education policy would be shifted back to state and local governments. The Student Success Act would eliminate the adequate yearly progress goals that measure a student’s proficiency in reading, language arts and mathematics using a standardized test. According to the No Child Left Behind standard, all students are expected to be proficient in these three subjects.
The Student Success Act also would prevent the U.S. Department of Education from using grant programs, waivers or other tools to incentivize states to adopt the common core state standards.
These academic standards, which were created by state leaders separate from any federal intervention, are designed to increase college- and career-readiness and promote global economic competitiveness by fostering the voluntary adoption and implementation of a common set of grade-level standards in English/language arts and mathematics common among the states. These standards often have been mischaracterized as a federal-driven initiative because the U.S. Department of Education gave states credit for adopting them in the Race to the Top grant competition.
The House bill does include new flexibility in grant funding that will be welcome to many states. It eliminates the 40 percent poverty threshold for school programs that allow school-wide reform efforts. This would give more schools the ability to change their programs in a way that benefits their students’ needs. Schools also would have greater flexibility in deciding what programs should be expanded and consolidated.
This is the first time either chamber has passed a reauthorization bill since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind, was passed in 2001. It likely will prompt action by the Senate to gets its own proposal to the floor and set the stage for the two chambers to reconcile their differences in the closed-door atmosphere of a conference committee.
Last month the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed The Strengthening America's Schools Act without a single Republican vote. The bill, sponsored by Committee Chair Sen. Tom Harkin, rolls back some of the more stringent aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act, but keeps in place the requirement that states set and report performance targets for their students.
While both chambers are far apart on the role of the federal government in setting education standards, they share an interest in maintaining the prerogative of the legislative branch in leading education reform rather than surrendering it to the Department of Education through the No Child Left Behind waiver process, as has happened in the absence new legislation. Whether this common interest is enough to forge a compromise in a potential conference committee remains to be seen.