N.C. schools would gain $24 million in No Child Left Behind rewrite

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., on Capitol Hill in Washington. North Carolina’s senior senator was vocal this year on changes to federal K12 education funding.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., on Capitol Hill in Washington. North Carolina’s senior senator was vocal this year on changes to federal K12 education funding. AP

Republican U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis and the majority of North Carolina’s congressional delegation supported bipartisan education legislation set to replace some federal laws introduced in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

Burr, North Carolina’s senior senator, called the Every Student Succeeds Act “one of the most important education policy changes of our time.”

The bill, passed by the Senate in a 85-12 vote Wednesday, would reduce the federal government’s say over classroom standards but would keep in place a requirement that states conduct yearly standardized testing of students. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law Thursday morning, and he has said it removes a “one-size-fits-all mandate” on public schools.

U.S. Reps. George Holding, Walter Jones, Mark Meadows and Mark Walker, all N.C. Republicans, opposed the legislation in a House vote last week. But the state’s other Republicans, along with all three Democrats, supported the bill.

Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, who sits on the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a statement of support the bill “gets Washington out of the business of running schools.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act overhauls many Bush-era No Child Left Behind policies and proponents are celebrating education revisions that will give states and local school districts more control over classrooms.

Burr was vocal in the Senate this year about a provision to change the way Title II education dollars, which are aimed at increasing the number of experienced educators in schools, are sent to states. Until now, funding levels have been frozen since 2001, based on population. Proponents of the change argued state allocations should be decided based on current population, taking into account the number of low-income children who have moved into new schools since No Child Left Behind’s passage.

The change would net N.C. schools an extra $24 million per year for professional development for educators, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Proposed tweaks to funding invited “a long fight,” Burr said in a statement. “There were many influential groups committed to maintaining the status quo, even though many states with population shifts like North Carolina were getting shortchanged.”

Earlier this year, Burr proposed a separate amendment on Title I funding, hoping to change the formula used to decide how millions of federal dollars targeted to help educate poor students are provided to states. That effort failed following fierce opposition from states that stood to lose money if the Title 1 funding changed.

Burr and other supporters of rewriting and replacing No Child Left Behind found common ground on shifting $250 million from a grant-based program and using it to pay directly for a new pre-kindergarten program.

This earned praise on Wednesday from N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, who said pre-K education is critical to graduating college and job-ready students.

“Research is rich indicating how important it is to have preschool education. ... It makes a difference,” Atkinson said in an interview.

Atkinson also voiced support for the bill pulling back on federal mandates, which critics say have burdened school districts and states – particularly those associated with the Common Core curriculum. She said the bill lets North Carolina “customize” how it addresses low-performing schools.

Although the Every Student Succeeds Act would put more money toward pre-K programs, Atkinson said she would have liked to have seen Congress send those federal dollars to the state’s education department – a more direct route, she said, to school districts than through the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, as called for in the bill.

North Carolina will use the additional $24 million for educator training, retention and hiring to support teachers and others who are “at the core of high student achievement and growth,” Atkinson said.

Although the legislation gives more local control, some Republicans opposed the bill, saying it isn’t enough to reduce the federal government’s influence over school policies and curriculum. The only votes against the bill came from Republican House and Senate members.

Jones, a staunch No Child Left Behind critic since its original passage, said in a statement that the Every Student Succeeds Act “extends” what he calls ineffective programs and “big-government education.”

The law would take effect mid-year 2017. North Carolina’s waiver exempting the state from adopting many No Child Left Behind standards will end.

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews