WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are seeking to put their own stamp on national educational policy Friday with legislation that would replace the No Child Left Behind law and its standardized tests and return control over school performance to states and local school districts, greatly diminishing the role of the federal government.
The vote on the GOP Student Success Act was expected to be close, with few or no Democrats in support, but the ultimate outcome was certain: The White House said the bill would engender a veto, and the Democratic-led Senate was writing its own, very different bill.
The theme of the Republican bill was that state and local governments, not Washington, should be determining the best ways of improving student performance. Democrats said the bill would cut funding and allow states to lower achievement standards.
"This legislation will restore local control, empower parents, eliminate unnecessary Washington red tape and intrusion in schools and support innovation and excellence in the classroom," said Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn.
The bill would replace No Child Left Behind, a blueprint for raising student achievement levels that was the bipartisan product of, among others, current House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and was signed into law in early 2002 by President George W. Bush. The act required students at public schools receiving federal funds to take standardized tests and held schools and teachers accountable for raising the success rates of their students on those tests, among its provisions. It expired in 2007.
The law required that all students be able to read and do math at grade level by 2014. But the Obama administration, in a tacit acknowledgement that the goal was unattainable, last year began offering waivers to states that came up with their own federally approved plans to prepare children for college and careers and measure student and teacher performance. To date, 39 states and the District of Columbia have been granted waivers.
President Barack Obama said he was forced to act because Congress had failed to update the law despite widespread bipartisan agreement that it had to be fixed. Republicans charged that he was using the waivers to bypass Congress.
The law had been blamed for many of the problems in American schools, including that teachers were "teaching to the test" and that standardized tests should not be the only measure of student performance.
Democrats denounced the latest Republican approach to fixing the problem.
"This bill guts funding for public education, abdicates the federal government's responsibility to ensure every child has an equal opportunity to a quality education, and it walks away from our duty to hold school systems accountable," said Rep. George Miller of California, top Democrat on the education committee and a partner with Boehner and Kennedy in writing the No Child Left Behind law.
The White House, in its veto threat, said the bill "would not support state efforts to hold students to standards that will prepare them for college and careers, would not support our international economic competitiveness (and) would virtually eliminate accountability for the growth and achievement of historically underserved populations."
Democrats claimed the bill could also allow states to establish separate and unequal tracks for students with disabilities.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said many would like to eliminate the federal government's role in education, but the bill was "a reasonable first step in empowering the people closest to the students to make decisions for those students." Control from Washington has not brought educational improvements, she said.
The bill would eliminate the law's adequate yearly progress metric and let states develop accountability systems. It would get rid of federally mandated actions against poorly performing schools, again letting states and local governments determine improvement strategies. States and school systems would be directed to develop their own teacher-evaluation systems.
It would eliminate more than 70 existing elementary and secondary education programs, replacing them with block grant money that states and school districts could use as they think best.
It would also bar the education secretary from imposing conditions on states in exchange for waivers of federal law and encouraging states to implement national achievement standards known as the common core. The expansion of high-quality charter schools would be encouraged, and parents would be given more choices in picking schools that meet their needs.