The legislation dramatically reduces federal influence over education policy, and would give states more flexibility to measure and fix school performance, assess teachers and set educational funding priorities. It also promotes charter schools, one of the many factors that has drawn opposition from teachers unions.
"These waivers are a short-term fix to a long-term problem and leave states and districts with uncertainty about whether they will again be subject to the failing law, and if the administration will change the requirements necessary to receive a waiver," Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said.
"H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, ensures that local communities have the flexibility needed to meet the needs of their students."
While Democrats acknowledge that No Child Left Behind needs to be reformed, they said the GOP goes too far by obliterating most key federal education standards. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said that would give states the flexibility to stop making improvements to schools.
"If the underlying bill becomes law, states wouldn't even be required to set performance targets based on student growth, proficiency or graduation rates," he said. "Effectively, it would allow states to define success down simply to make themselves or their districts look good."
Polis also said No Child Left Behind had many good provisions that are gone from the GOP bill, including assurances that schools would pay some attention to underserved student populations.
"While No Child Left Behind certainly has its flaws … it nevertheless did move us forward when it comes to serving low-income and minority students, students with disabilities, English-language learners, and provided a new layer of transparency that prevented school districts from sweeping these problems under the rug," he said.
Polis also noted that House Republicans decided not to give a vote to his amendment to the bill that would set a federal policy against discrimination in schools against LGBT students, an absence that will likely draw significant Democratic opposition.
With the rule passed, the House moved to general debate on the bill and was then expected to start work on the 26 amendments that Republicans did make in order. Final passage of the bill is expected Friday.