Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy is part of a team of House and Senate lawmakers who hope to finish work on a bill this week that would overhaul federal education policy and eliminate the No Child Left Behind law.
Attempts to marry two very different education bills approved by the House and Senate earlier this year was consider a tough, if not impossible task.
But key lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agreed to a framework that helped Murphy and more than two dozen lawmakers in the House and Senate begin on Wednesday to craft a final bill. They hope to finish on Thursday.
“It’s not the best possible, bill but it’s the best bill possible,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas.
Called the Every Child Achieves Act, the bill would make significant changes to the No Child Left Behind law signed by President Bush in 2002, which critics said placed too much emphasis on judging and punishing schools based on student test scores.
Few details are known about the framework that will form the basis of the new education bill, since they have been kept under wraps. But some are known.
While giving back considerable authority over education issues to the states, the Every Child Achieves Act would still require students to take standardized tests, including a reading test and a math test every year in grades 3 through 8 and one a year during high school.
It also would require students to take a total of three science tests between grades 3 and 12.
But the federal government could no longer use those test scores to punish “failing” schools by redirecting funding elsewhere.
Gone is a provision in the House education bill that would allow federal money to follow disadvantaged students even to wealthy schools instead of focusing federal money on schools with the greatest number of disadvantaged students.
Civil rights groups are concerned there won’t be enough accountability, and that failing minority and disabled students will fall through the cracks. Murphy has shared this concern.
“The prism through which I view this conference report is pretty simple – I don’t think it’s worthwhile for the federal government to pass a national education law unless it’s also a civil rights law,” he said in his opening statement in the conference. “In fact, the whole reason the federal government ever got into the debate about the quality of local education was to protect civil rights.”
Murphy, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, later said that “there is significant new accountability” in the new education bill.
It contains a requirement that states turn around the bottom 5 percent of their schools.
Another negotiator, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said there are “significant funding additions to pre-K education” in the bill.
“I think we’re close enough that we should be able to pass this bill,” Scott said.
The negotiators hope to finish work on the bill Thursday and hold votes on it in the House and Senate after Congress’s Thanksgiving break.
Mary Kusler, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, said the teacher’s union is happy with what it knows of the bill.
“We really see that there is a lot of promise,” she said.