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House GOP pushes through curbs on No Child Left Behind

The House bill rolls back much of the accountability requirements for the No Child Left Behind law. It also locks in lower levels of federal funding. The Obama administration threatened a veto.

By Staff writer / July 19, 2013

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) of Ohio, smiles as he walks to the floor of the House of Representatives as the GOP majority passed legislation to replace the No Child Left Behind law, in Washington, Friday, July 19. Supporters of HR 5, the Student Success Act, say it restores flexibility to local school districts, gives broader choice to parents, and encourages innovation by scaling back the federal footprint.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Six years after Congress was supposed to reauthorize the federal No Child Left Behind education law, the US House of Representatives passed a bill – with no Democratic support – that would roll back much of the law’s accountability requirements and lock in lower levels of education funding.

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Supporters of HR 5, the Student Success Act, say it restores flexibility to local school districts, gives broader choice to parents, and encourages innovation by scaling back the federal footprint. Opponents say it would reverse longstanding efforts to improve education, particularly for the most disadvantaged groups of children.

In order for the law, formally the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to be reauthorized, both the House and Senate would have to come to some agreement, but the differences between the House bill and the Senate bill (which has not yet come up for a vote) are so vast that many education stakeholders believe reauthorization is still a long way off.

The Obama administration issued a veto threat in advance of Friday’s House vote. The bill passed by a vote of 221 to 207. Twelve Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill.

Currently, dozens of states are operating under waivers from the US Department of Education, which relieve them from some provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that many agree are flawed and onerous. Those waivers come with conditions that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sees as key to keeping states moving forward on boosting standards to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.

To many Republicans, the Department has overstepped its bounds with such conditions, a point made by Rep. John Kline (R) of Minnesota, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, when he urged his colleagues to pass the bill Friday. “It’s time for the Congress …  to step up and do its job … and get the [Obama] administration out of the business of writing education policy,” he said.

Rep. George Miller (D) of California, the top Democrat on the education committee, fiercely opposed the bill Friday, and argued for a substitute proposal, saying the fight was “about education justice and whether or not every student … is going to have a high quality education that no longer depends on their zipcode.”

In addition to letting states and districts off the hook for key accountability measures, Representative Miller said, the bill would lock in sequestration-level funding, cuts that would amount to “stealing from the poorest people in this country to achieve deficit reduction.”

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