GOP Rewrite of No Child Left Behind Poised for House Vote

Elahe Izadi and Billy House

A Republican rewrite of President Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind education law could come to the House floor for a vote as early as this week. But while GOP leaders are confident it will pass, Democrats stand in opposition and conservative support is questionable.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., predicted success in passage of the legislation, dubbed by the GOP as the “Student Success Act,” because of the “reform nature of this bill.” Cantor made his remarks during an event at Two Rivers Public Charter School in Northeast Washington, D.C.

And House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., said his bill eliminates 70 programs that are funded under the current law, “so that’s very much in line with conservative thinking of reducing the federal footprint. We have very strong support across the conference.”

However, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters at the Capitol that there is a familiar “ring” to the broad opposition that is emerging. He was referring to the fact that some previous measures backed by Republican leaders—facing wide opposition—have had difficulty overcoming internal disagreements within the majority conference, including the farm bill most recently.

Conservative backing will be key for the bill’s passage, but it’s up in the air. The Heritage Foundation has weighed in on the bill, saying in a blog post on the group’s website that the bill “provides a few good first steps toward limiting burdensome federal intervention in education. But in its current form, the proposal has some serious policy limitations.”

Hoyer suggested that Republicans will have to rely almost entirely on their own members, without any Democratic support. “We believe this is a bad bill, goes in the wrong direction,” he said, adding that a more bipartisan approach would have been preferable to what Democrats are calling the “Letting Students Down Act.”

A House Democratic aide said the caucus is united in opposing the bill.

Cantor hasn’t yet set an exact day for a vote on the measure to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in a way that will redo significant portions of the previous rewrites, including the one Bush signed into law.

Overall, the legislation is a more conservative proposal than that Bush-era version. The bill increases the leeway that districts and states have with funding and accountability. It doesn’t completely eliminate the federal role in education, though it does bar the secretary of Education from encouraging states to implement national standards.

More than 70 amendments have been submitted, including a “portability” amendment from Cantor allowing Title I funds to follow students to whichever public school they choose. But that amendment may not appease conservatives who insist on private school vouchers as well. Hoyer said the bill “weakens the requirements for standards setting, weakens the assessment process, allows States to establish weak accountability,”

He also noted the variety of groups against the legislation. The Chamber of Commerce, Education Trust, National Council of La Raza and National Center for Learning Abilities all oppose it.