WASHINGTON (AP) - The effort to rewrite the flawed No Child Left Behind education law is heading for a partisan confrontation as House Republicans champion legislation that would strip the federal government of its powers to set standards for students and schools.
A vote Friday on the GOP Student Success Act was expected to be close, but the ultimate outcome was certain: The White House said the bill would engender a veto and the Democratic-led Senate was writing its own, very different bill.
The theme of the Republican bill was to get Washington out of the business of setting national education goals and return to state and local control the decisions over how best to improve student performance. Democrats said it would cut funding and allow states to lower achievement standards.
"This legislation will restore local control, empower parents, eliminate unnecessary Washington red tape and intrusion in schools and support innovation and excellence in the classroom," said Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn.
The bill would replace No Child Left Behind, a blueprint for raising student achievement levels that was the bipartisan product of, among others, current House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and was signed into law in early 2002 by President George W. Bush. The act required students at public schools receiving federal funds to take standardized tests and held schools and teachers accountable for raising the success rates of their students on those tests, among its provisions. It expired in 2007.
There was no argument on the need to make significant changes to the law, but Democrats denounced the Republican approach.
"This bill guts funding for public education, abdicates the federal government's responsibility to ensure every child has an equal opportunity to a quality education, and it walks away from our duty to hold school systems accountable," said Rep. George Miller of California, top Democrat on the education committee and a partner with Boehner and Kennedy in writing the No Child Left Behind law.
The White House, in its veto threat, said the bill "would not support state efforts to hold students to standards that will prepare them for college and careers, would not support our international economic competitiveness (and) would virtually eliminate accountability for the growth and achievement of historically underserved populations."
Democrats claimed the bill could also allow states to establish separate and unequal tracks for students with disabilities.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said many would like to eliminate the federal government's role in education, but the bill was "a reasonable first step in empowering the people closest to the students to make decisions for those students." Control from Washington has not brought educational improvements, she said.
The bill would eliminate the law's adequate yearly progress metric and let states determine accountability systems. It would get rid of federally mandated actions against poorly performing schools, again letting states and local governments determine improvement strategies. States and school systems would be directed to develop their own teacher-evaluation systems.
It would eliminate more than 70 existing elementary and secondary education programs, replacing them with block grants that states and school districts could use as they think best.
It bars the education secretary from imposing conditions on states in exchange for waivers of federal law and encouraging states to implement national achievement standards known as the common core. The expansion of high-quality charter schools is encouraged and parents are given more choices in picking schools that meet their needs.