U.S. Rewrite of No-Child Law Would Limit Federal Role

The Republican-led U.S. House voted to curb the federal government’s role in elementary and secondary education -- defying a veto threat and the opposition of teachers’ unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“We agree on both sides of the aisle the status quo is not working,” the bill’s author, Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline of Minnesota, said today on the House floor before the bill passed, 221-207.

“It is time for the Congress, the House and the Senate, to step up and do its job and write a new law and get the administration out of the business of writing education policy,” he said.

This is the first time Congress has revisited the George W. Bush administration’s signature education law known as No Child Left Behind since it was enacted in 2001.

Kline’s bill, H.R. 5, would give states and local school boards more authority over how they spend the money they get from Washington, D.C. Local educators also would gain flexibility to eliminate some federal progress standards.

It would end a requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014 and instead allow states to create their own evaluation systems. It would eliminate a standard that measures each class’s performance on standardized tests against the performance of the preceding year’s class.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a traditional Republican ally, went on record yesterday in opposition, saying that approach could lead to lower academic achievement.

Disability Protections

State officials have chafed under the No Child Left Behind law’s restrictions, leading the administration of President Barack Obama to give most states a waiver to implement variations.

House Democrats argue that the Republicans’ approach would provide inadequate funding and weaken protections for disadvantaged students, including those with disabilities.

The bill would “move backward on equity and accountability, harming the education of our nation’s children, ” the office of Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said today in a message to House Democrats.

The Obama administration has threatened a veto of the bill, saying it could result in lower state investments in education and academic standards that don’t prepare students for work or college.

Chamber Opposition

Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education have requested waivers of No Child Left Behind requirements. The administration has issued waivers for 37 states and D.C.; the rest are under review. Only California, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Vermont haven’t sought waivers.

The Chamber of Commerce said in a statement yesterday that while the House bill “would require school performance transparency, it would not require true accountability.”

The Chamber said it may include the bill as a key vote on its annual scorecard of lawmakers.

It’s also opposed by the National Education Association, a union which represents public school teachers. The NEA said it may include votes on the bill in its annual legislative report card.

Although the No Child Left Behind law was originally passed with bipartisan support in both chambers, Democrats and Republicans have battled over the federal government’s role in education since the law expired in 2007.

Senate Bill

Senate Democrats have their own bill, which more closely resembles the approach of the Obama administration.

Sponsored by the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, the Senate bill would retain the standardized-testing program, which requires reporting of the performance of subgroups, such as minorities, children with disabilities and those that speak English as a second language. The House bill wouldn’t require states to report subgroup performance data.

Harkin said yesterday that the Senate would vote on his bill, S. 1094, sometime “this fall.” Despite the divergence between the two chambers’ approaches,“I’m sure there’s some sweet spots someplace that will allow compromise as we get to the floor and hammer it out,” he said.

The House measure would extend for six years the law governing federal education funding. Although expired, its provisions have been continued through annual appropriations bills.

Standardized Testing

The legislation would allow the U.S. to spend about $22.9 billion a year, with about $16.7 billion annually designated for Title I schools with large populations of low-income students. It would allow schools to decide how to allocate federal funding that is currently reserved for subgroups of students - including children of migrant workers and those that speak English as a second language. It would still require standardized testing at certain levels, and mandate that states disclose graduation rates and other performance data in annual report cards.

The bill may benefit charter school operators such as Pearson Plc under provisions that would increase funding for charter schools and require states to reserve Title I funding for school choice programs. It would require funds be set aside for tutoring and after-school activities provided outside of schools -- a provision that could benefit companies that offer those services, such as Sylvan Learning Corp. and The Washington Post Co.’s Kaplan Inc. unit.

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