Eight years after the program technically expired, Congress is finally debating an update of the contentious No Child Left Behind Act, which poured an avalanche of federal programs and testing standards on public schools across the U.S.
The House’s update of No Child Left Behind, called the Student Success Act, will be the topic of a hearing by the Rules Committee on Tuesday, allowing lawmakers to determine which amendments will make the cut for debate later this week.
The No Child Left Behind rewrite was pulled from the House floor in February after conservatives argued it did not go far enough in removing the federal government from education policy.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-NC, and Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., hope to soothe these concerns through their A-PLUS Act.
This amendment would allow states to opt out of the nearly 80 federal programs under No Child Left Behind, giving them the option to direct federal education funding toward state-established programs instead.
“The federal government should not be imposing mandates on states and local communities regarding K-12 education,” DeSantis said in a statement. “The amendment that we are offering liberates states from burdensome and ineffective regulations, providing local communities with the flexibility to use federal education funding for programs that they believe will best increase the success of students in the classroom.”
Conservatives also argued the House’s rendition of No Child Left Behind, introduced and sponsored by Minnesota Republican John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, did not do enough to scale back spending.
The House proposal costs $23.2 billion, nearly matching NCLB’s $24 billion, according to The Heritage Foundation.
In February, the White House threatened to veto the rewrite, the Student Success Act, because it includes a measure allowing states to link federal dollars to individual students in low-income areas as opposed to the school district itself.
Supporters of what’s known as “portability” say it allows children in low-income areas to move to better schools since the funding is attached to the individual student rather than the school district.
Opponents, namely Democrats, argue that portability makes failing schools worse off by taking funds out of low-income districts and giving it to wealthier schools.
The Senate’s version of the Student Success Act, called the Every Child Achieves Act, stripped out the portability measure to garner enough support from Democrats.
The Senate will likely begin floor debate on its bill Tuesday, which passed the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unanimously in April with bipartisan support.
The bill ends some of No Child Left Behind’s harsh federal accountability mandates, allowing states to establish their own systems using test scores, graduation rates and state-selected criteria to measure a school’s performance.
Though the Senate proposal increases states’ flexibility in assessing performance, the bill would maintain the rigid testing standards under No Child Left Behind.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., introduced an amendment that reduces the testing from occurring annually in grades 3-8 to happening once each in elementary, middle and high school.
This week is only the beginning of the overdue education debate.
Even if the Senate is able to maintain most of its original bill and the House passes the Student Success Act, Congress will still have to wade through difficult negotiations in conference to bridge differences between the two proposals.