WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House education committee approved a partisan bill Wednesday to update the No Child Left Behind education law, maintaining annual testing requirements but stripping the federal government of much of its influence in local schools.
The bill, similar to one passed by the House in 2013 without one Democrat voting in support, was protested by Democrats. They said it would lead to the federal government abandoning its responsibility to ensure poor, minority, non-English-speaking and disabled children receive a quality education.
"Unfortunately, our Republican colleagues have dismissed every plea for cooperation, and are pushing a bill that would take American public education in the wrong direction," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the ranking Democrat of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
The bill passed 21-16 along party lines.
Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., said lawmakers have adopted more and more mandates for schools over the last five decades, but they don't work. Republicans said the requirements are burdensome and federal dollars come strapped with complicated paperwork.
The bill would allow states to decide how to improve failing schools, replace several federal programs with a single, flexible local grant program and allow public money to follow low-income children to new public schools.
"Success in school should be determined by those who teach inside our classrooms; by administrators and local leaders who understand the challenges facing their communities: by parents who know better than anyone the needs of their children," Kline said.
It's widely agreed the law needs to be fixed, but there's widespread disagreement over how to do it.
The bipartisan law President George W. Bush signed in 2002 sought to close significant gaps in the achievement of historically underserved group of students and their more affluent peers. It mandated annual testing in reading and math for students in grades three to eight and again in high school. Schools had to show student growth or face consequences.
No Child Left Behind required that all students be able to read and do math at their actual grade level by 2014. But the Obama administration, in a tacit acknowledgement that the goal was unattainable, in 2012 began allowing waivers around some of the law's more stringent requirements if schools agreed to certain conditions, like using college- and career-ready standards such as Common Core.
House Republican leaders view the bill as a way to make clear their opposition to the Obama administration's encouragement of the Common Core state standards. The standards have been adopted in more than 40 states and spell out what English and math skills students should master at each level, but have become a political issue in many states because they are viewed by critics as a federal effort even though they were developed by U.S. governors.
The House bill would prohibit the federal education secretary from demanding changes to state standards or imposing conditions on states in exchange for a waiver around federal law.
"There is too much opportunity under current law for the secretary to impose his will on schools," Kline said.
Democrats say states have a long history of ignoring the needs of historically underserved groups of students and the federal government must protect them.
The bill is expected to go before the House for a vote in late February.
In the Senate, there appears to be more of a bipartisan effort to fix the law. Late last week, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and the committee's senior Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., issued a statement saying they were working together on a proposal. Alexander has said he wants to get a bill to the full Senate by March 1.
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