While Democrats and Republicans in the Senate hold daily negotiations over a new federal education law, things are far more strained between the parties on the House side.
As the House focuses on an updated version of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the ranking member on the House committee on Education and the Workforce, sent a written request to Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) to hold hearings.
Kline did not respond, according to Brian Levin, a spokesman for the committee Democrats.
Instead, Kline filed a new bill Tuesday, basically the same legislation that House Republicans passed in 2013 on a strict party-line vote, with no support from Democrats. The White House threatened to veto that bill.
So Scott and other committee Democrats announced they are holding their own hearing on Thursday, calling it a “forum,” with witnesses. It is unclear if they are going to file dueling legislation, Levin said.
“There is broad agreement that No Child Left Behind is outdated,” Scott said in a statement. “But rather than building upon the advancements we’ve made since the last ESEA rewrite, the Republican [bill] would turn back the clock on our public education system.”
The bill Kline filed Tuesday closely resembles a draft bill circulated by his counterpart in the Senate, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate education panel. But Alexander has held two hearings and one roundtable discussion, and his staff is negotiating with Democratic staff in the hope of creating a bill that would attract bipartisan support.
“The status quo in K-12 education is hurting countless students across the country,” Kline said in a statement Wednesday. “The federal government shouldn’t be in the business of dictating how schools spend their money. It’s been our approach for decades, and student achievement is stagnant. Anything we can do to encourage good public schools to attract low-income students is a good thing. By empowering parents and education leaders, our proposal will help every child in every school receive the excellent education they deserve.”
Kline’s bill differs from Alexander’s draft in one regard: It would keep the federal requirement that public schools test all students in math and reading in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.
But it would erase most other methods the federal government now uses to hold states accountable for educating students. Under the bill, schools would have to measure student academic growth and report it by subgroup — race, income, whether students are English language learners or have disabilities — and issue annual report cards.
States would not be required to meet any particular benchmarks in terms of academic achievement. They 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 state. States would not be required to evaluate teachers.
The Kline bill would delete the current requirement that states and school districts maintain their school spending in order to be eligible for federal dollars, but it would keep a requirement that says federal dollars can’t replace local school dollars.
“This proposal provides an opportunity to chart a new course, one that places less faith in the Department of Education and more faith in the parents and education leaders who know best how to address the needs of their children,” Kline said in a statement.
The Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents education commissioners in every state, commended Kline on the bill. State education leaders have bristled under the mandates of No Child Left Behind, which set goals for academic achievement and corresponding penalties for states that fail to make progress. They also have strained under conditions set by the Obama administration to win waivers from the more onerous aspects of No Child Left Behind.
Civil rights groups say Kline’s bill would return the country to darker times for disadvantaged students. Wade Henderson, chief executive of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a group of more than 200 national civil rights groups, wrote to House members this week, urging them to oppose Kline’s bill.
“As a whole, the bill would thrust us back to an earlier time when states could choose to ignore the needs of children of color, low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities,” Henderson wrote. “The results, for these groups of students and for our nation as a whole, were devastating then, and would be devastating now.”
Both the House and Senate GOP proposals would allow for changes in the way federal dollars are spent to educate poor students.
Currently, public schools get those federal dollars according to a formula based on their number of disadvantaged students. Under the Republican plans, known as “Title 1 portability,” the money would “follow the child,” so that if a poor student transfers from a high-poverty school to a more affluent one, the federal dollars would follow the student to the new school. The provision would only apply to public schools.
Democrats, civil rights groups and teachers unions are opposed to Title 1 portability. The left-leaning Center for American Progress, which has close ties to the Obama administration, released a report Wednesday that said portability would weaken the program’s ability to alleviate the impact of poverty on children.
Kline’s House panel plans to mark-up his bill next week and bring it to the House floor by the end of February. Alexander said he is hoping to get a bipartisan bill out of his committee around the same time.