The Senate Thursday passed a bipartisan rewrite of No Child Left Behind, the nation’s Bush-era education standards that extended the federal government’s reach into U.S. public schools.
The legislation passed by a 81-17 vote one week after the House voted along party lines to narrowly pass its more conservative version of No Child Left Behind.
The Senate’s bill would retain No Child Left Behind’s extensive testing standards but gives control to states in deciding whether to use the results in measuring a school’s performance.
It would also bar the federal government from imposing Common Core benchmarks on states and school districts, a gain for Republicans pushing for localized education standards.
“The pundits told us it would never happen. Republicans and Democrats will never agree on a way to replace No Child Left Behind, they said. But a new Senate that’s back to work is proving them wrong,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said before the vote.
Out of the 17 votes against the measure, 14 were from Republicans, with three Democrats joining them in opposition.
17 no votes on renewing No Child Left Behind. 14 R’s: Crapo Cruz Daines Flake Lee Moran Murphy Paul Risch Rubio Sasse Scott Shelby Vitter
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) July 16, 2015
The House and Senate now must reconcile its bills before the president has a chance to sign off.
Co-sponsors Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will have a tough sell in conference.
The House version includes a Republican-backed provision allowing federal money to follow low-income children to public schools of their choice.
Democrats contend this “portability” measure, as it’s known, pulls funding from areas that need it most, aggravating inequalities in poor school districts. The White House has already threatened to veto any legislation including portability.
The Senate stripped a similar provision from its bill to pull enough Democratic support.
Lindsey Burke, an expert in education for The Heritage Foundation, said both rewrites are “missed opportunities” to restore state and local control in education policy.
“The Senate version sets the stage for increasing in spending in the next few years, and provides no options whatsoever for funding portability,” Burke said. “The House version provides only meager portability, with some funds following students to public schools of choice.”
Murray said differences need to be resolved, but downplayed potential contention.
“I am confident we can get this bill over the finish line,” she told Reuters.