The House suspended floor debate on a Republican bill to rewrite No Child Left Behind on Friday afternoon, with party leaders saying they had to shift the chamber’s focus to debate funding the Department of Homeland Security.
Earlier in the day, the chances for the education bill’s passage appeared uncertain, thanks to GOP defections among the party’s conservatives who said the plan did not go far enough to shrink the federal influence on K-12 education.
“This proposal spends nearly as much as No Child Left Behind, is nearly as long in page length and fails to give states an option to opt out of the law,” said Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that urged Republicans to vote against the bill. “As it stands, it’s a huge missed opportunity to restore state and local control of education.”
Democrats also opposed the bill, saying that it goes too far in transferring power from the federal government to states and local districts. They are joined by major civil rights groups, teachers unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
This week, President Obama threatened to veto the House bill, arguing that it “abdicates the historic federal role in elementary and secondary education of ensuring the educational progress of all of America’s students, including students from low-income families, students with disabilities, English learners, and students of color.”
A nearly identical bill was passed by the House in 2013 under a similar veto threat, but it was never taken up by the Senate.
The bill would strip the federal government of much of its authority to oversee how states and local school districts spend federal dollars designated to help educate poor and disabled students. Republicans say they want to return power to states. Democrats argue that the federal government must exercise some oversight over local schools, otherwise some will ignore the needs of poor and disabled students as well as English learners.
The Republican bill would largely let states determine how to spend federal dollars. States would not be required to meet federal benchmarks of academic progress. States would have to intervene in high-poverty schools that are not improving by their measures. But the type of intervention and the number of schools would be up to the states, which would also not be required to evaluate teachers.
The most debated element of the bill is a proposal to change the way federal funds are allocated to help educate poor students.
Currently, public schools receive those federal funds according to a formula based on the number of disadvantaged students enrolled. Under the Republican plan, known as “Title 1 portability,” the money would “follow the child” so that if a poor student transferred from a high-poverty school to a wealthier one, the federal money would follow the student to the new school. The provision would apply only to public schools.
The Obama administration said that proposal would devastate schools that serve the neediest students.
The bill passed out of the House Education Committee on a strict party-line vote, with no Democrats in support, and debate on the House floor began Wednesday.
An aide to the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), said the lawmaker was hopeful that action on the bill would resume later Friday.
In what some observers say was an attempt to attract conservative votes, Republicans attached last-minute language to the bill that would withhold federal funding from districts with school-based health centers that provide information about abortion, including the location of the nearest abortion provider.
No Child Left Behind was the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which Congress passed after it recognized that some states were not meeting the needs of students who were poor or had a disability. No Child Left Behind, bipartisan legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, greatly expanded the federal role in education, requiring states for the first time to annually test students in math and reading in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school and to report those scores publicly by subgroups based on race, income, disability, gender and whether students were English learners.
The law also required schools to demonstrate academic progress among each subgroup or face increasingly stiffer penalties. Congress was due to reauthorize No Child Left Behind in 2007 but has not been able to find consensus about the proper role of the federal government.