The House of Representatives on Friday passed a Republican-backed revision of the No Child Left Behind Act that would greatly reduce federal oversight of public education and give states and school districts authority once again over how to measure student achievement and fix failing schools.
The measure also would give local officials more control over how they use federal education dollars.
The bill passed 221-207, with 12 Republicans and all Democrats opposed. It’s a reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the law that emphasizes equal access to education and provides federal funds to help disadvantaged students.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the author of the legislation, said his Student Success Act would increase state and local control over education.
“What states and school districts have been asking for is more flexibility and less federal mandates,” Kline said.
The bill still faces obstacles to becoming law. Differences would have to be worked out with a Senate version. A version that passed with majority-Democrats’ support in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would give more flexibility to but wouldn’t reverse the federal accountability requirements of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, as the House version does.
The House bill would end the federally required accountability system, known as “adequate yearly progress,” and let states and districts figure out their own accountability measurements. It also would do away with federally required interventions in poorly performing schools.
It would eliminate the “highly qualified teacher” requirement, which requires teachers to hold both bachelor’s degrees and teaching credentials. Charter schools pushed for that measure, saying it would make it easier for them to hire.
One part of No Child that Kline’s bill retains is the requirement that schools report each year on student achievement test results and show how the scores break down for subgroups, such as minority and low-income students.
Democrats argued that the House bill would fail to ensure improved learning and graduation rates and that it wouldn’t provide enough funding to help students with extra needs or provide enough guidance on how that money was used. The Republican measure would freeze funding at the level of sequestration, the automatic budget cuts that went into effect earlier this year.
“Since 1965 the role of federal involvement in the schools has been to eliminate inequality in education, not just to provide additional funds to schools to use as they please,” said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.
“This is a fight about equity,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. “It is about every child in our country getting the education they deserve despite poverty, disability and other challenges.”
Miller offered an alternative bill that outlined the Democrats’ vision of education restructuring, but it was defeated on a party-line vote. That bill included more flexible standards and assessments, but it kept measures that would require schools to ensure that all groups of students are making academic progress.
No Child Left Behind included a requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. When that proved virtually impossible, the Obama administration granted waivers to states in exchange for assurances that they’d adopt college- or work-ready standards for high school graduates and would evaluate teachers at least in part on the basis of achievement test scores.
Republicans objected. The House bill would ban the Department of Education from imposing conditions on waivers.
Among the House bill’s supporters were the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators. Both of the major teachers’ unions opposed it, as did advocacy groups such as the First Focus Campaign for Children and The Education Trust.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which often backs Republican measures, also called on House members to vote against the Student Success Act. A letter Thursday from R. Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, said the business and free-enterprise group was concerned that the measure would “reduce school-level accountability, would not provide consequences for low-performing schools and would not require states to adopt college- and career-ready standards and assessments.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong name for the law’s system of measuring school performance, known as “adequate yearly progress.”