Sen. Chris Murphy speaking on the Senate floor. YouTube
Sen. Chris Murphy speaking on the Senate floor. YouTube

Washington – The Senate on Thursday voted to overturn a key regulation that places tougher accountability measures on schools — measures backed by civil rights groups and those who advocate for disabled children.

Republicans complained that the way the Obama administration interpreted the law in writing the rule was too broad.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said a bipartisan education bill called the Every Student Succeeds Act aimed to roll back federal authority over education.

However, “the Department of Education regulation that we seek to overturn today does exactly the reverse,” Alexander said. “It begins to restore the national school board, and it begins to take away responsibility from classroom teachers, from local school boards and from states and it does this in direct violation of the law that we passed…”

The regulation required all schools to submit plans on how they would ensure their most vulnerable students are receiving a quality education and not falling behind.  The plan must identify ways to help struggling subgroups of students — including minorities, low-income children and the disabled –succeed and each state’s plans to intervene when needed.

Republicans resorted to the rarely used Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that says Congress can repeal rules issued in the last 60 legislative days. Senators voted 50-49 to roll back the regulation.

The ESSA  replaced the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the HELP Committee who help draft the Every Student Succeeds Act and supported strong accountability, said the move to kill the regulation was a GOP rejection “of a bipartisan rule that assured that civil rights are protected.”

Civil rights groups also decried the Senate vote.

“Today, 50 Republican senators cast an ill-advised vote to repeal a critical rule and make ESSA more difficult to implement,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Henderson said despite elimination of the regulation, “it is now incumbent on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to reassure students, parents, advocates, and Congress that ESSA will be executed consistent with the law and that robust federal oversight will provide meaningful protections for students.”

In a few weeks all states, including Connecticut, will begin to submit their ESSA plans to the U.S. Education Department for review.

“We fully expect the Department to take that role seriously and to approve only those plans consistent with the requirements of the law and the purpose of Title I: ‘to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps,’” Henderson said.

Murphy said “the statute is still the statute.”

He said without the regulation, states will have a tougher time interpreting ESSA’s accountability provisions.

The regulation the GOP quashed also would give the states more flexibility in adhering to the law, and an additional year to implement the accountability provision, Murphy said.

But he said GOP senators ignored those benefits to the states because of the poor relationship congressional Republicans had with the Obama administration and “there was a little bit of friction that was left over from that.”

Thursday’s vote comes after senators voted 59-40 to overturn a regulation on teacher preparation requirements. That regulation required states to issue ratings for teacher prep programs and penalizes poorly performing schools by withholding some federal aid.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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