Washington – A bill that would overhaul federal education law and replace the controversial No Child Left Behind Act was approved in the House of Representatives Thursday without a single Democratic vote.
The Student Success Act, passed in a 218-213 vote, would shift more authority over education issues to the states and allow parents to opt out of federal testing requirements. Connecticut’s five House members voted against the bill, but all but 27 Republicans voted for the measure.
“Real education reform starts with taking power out of Washington’s hands and giving it back to the people, because nobody knows what is best for a child’s future more than the parents who raise them and the teachers who educate them,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
A key amendment supported by the House’s Tea Party members failed when moderate Republicans joined Democrats to block it. It would have turned all federal education money into block grants, allowing the states to ignore federal education standards while receiving federal funds.
Still, civil rights groups and advocates for the disabled said the education bill would erode protections.
“This bill is not a much-needed update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Rather, it is a rollback to a time when the needs of students in underserved communities were ignored,” said the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, spoke against the bill on the House floor Wednesday.
“Today, we are voting on a bill that guts education funding, fails to provide adequate support for our hard-working teachers, and turns our back on our schools, our communities, and our children,” Esty said. “We are not fixing No Child Left Behind — which has long needed to be fixed — but instead, we are moving in the wrong direction.”
Esty failed in an attempt to amend the bill to boost funding for students with disabilities and set national standards for seclusion and restraint practices to prevent abuses.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, also tried to amend the bill to improve access to science, technology, engineering and math education resources. But GOP leaders did not allow a vote on Courtney’s amendment either.
“The Student Success Act fails to live up to its name on all fronts,” said Rep. John Larson, D-1st District. “At a time when schools are already struggling to balance their budgets, the last thing we should do is cut funding to help provide an education to their most vulnerable students.”
Besides allowing parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without putting school districts at risk of federal sanctions — which civil rights groups say helps mask an achievement gap between rich an poor students — the House bill would change how federal funds are dispensed to educate poor students. Instead of an allocation by formula, the money would “follow the child” if a student changed school, something that could benefit high-performing schools in wealthier districts.
The House vote came as the Senate is considering its own measure, a bipartisan effort that would give states more authority to determine how to hold school districts accountable for student performance.
If the Senate approves its education bill, a final bill would have to be worked out between the two chambers.
The White House has rejected the House education bill, but signaled that President Obama would sign the Senate bill into law — with certain changes.
The Senate bill would keep the reading and math tests mandated in No Child Left Behind, but give states authority over how to use those tests to measure how well teachers and schools are performing. It also would bar the federal government from requiring or encouraging any specific set of academic standards, in effect ending “Common Core” standards.
The Obama administration is seeking changes in the bill aimed at ensuring that schools are accountable when their students lag behind other children in better performing schools.
Congress has not been able to reauthorize a federal education law since 2001, when the No Child Left Behind Act was approved.