Senate passes overhaul of No Child Left Behind

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The Senate on Thursday passed an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind education law, an action that senators on both sides of the aisle agreed was long overdue. 

Senators voted 81-17 to pass the Every Child Achieves Act, which transfers more decision-making power to state and local authorities. 

While No Child Left Behind was passed under former President George W. Bush, the weeklong debate in the Senate over changes to the law was among the least divisive of Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellJohn McCain: No longer a profile in courage McConnell: Senate won't take up TPP this year Barack Obama is the founder of Donald Trump MORE’s (R-Ky.) six-month tenure as majority leader.

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He touted the legislation as the latest example that his party has been able to get the Senate working again ahead of the 2016 elections.

"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," McConnell said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who spearheaded the bill, repeatedly thanked Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidMcConnell: Senate won't take up TPP this year Politicians can’t afford to ignore Latinos Trump poised to betray primary supporters on immigration MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatty Murray'BernieCare' can save ObamaCare Senate Dems make Zika a campaign issue Rubio calls for lawmakers to return to DC, pass Zika funding MORE (D-Wash.) for their cooperation.

"He's helped to create an environment that permitted this to move in an orderly fashion," he said, thanking Reid again Thursday ahead of the vote.

Education Secretary Arne DuncanArne DuncanIn search of the surest Common Core exit route The opt-out movement and the coddling epidemic Senate approves Obama education chief MORE called the passage of the Senate bill "progress," but added that it "should also do more to maintain focus on what matters most.”

"This bill still falls short of truly giving every child a fair shot at success by failing to ensure that parents and children can count on local leaders to take action when students are struggling to learn," he added.

But the legislation wasn't without controversy.

Reid threatened earlier this week that Democrats would block the bill unless they were granted more amendment votes.

"We are not going to allow cloture to succeed unless we have a pathway forward on these amendments," he said on Monday evening.

Alexander was able to get a deal on allowing for dozens of additional amendments, many from Democrats.

Reid did fire a closing salvo Thursday, saying that the Senate could have passed an overhaul years ago if Republicans had cooperated. 

A group of conservative Republicans, including presidential contender Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: On the fringe FULL SPEECH: Hillary Clinton links Trump to 'alt-right' in Reno Presidential hopefuls still bank on retail politics MORE (R-Texas), had pushed to use the legislation to crack down on "sanctuary cities" in the wake of the recent killing of Kathryn Steinle. The suspect in the shooting of the 32-year-old is an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times. 

Had Cruz’s gambit succeeded, it would have threatened Democratic support and likely derailed the bill. 

Republican Sens. Cruz, Rand PaulRand PaulTrump, Clinton boost Snapchat spending Clinton enjoying edge over Trump in Silicon Valley Trump gets little backing from Silicon Valley MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioAnalysis: Clinton speaks at higher grade level than Trump Trump poised to betray primary supporters on immigration Senate Dems' campaign arm knocks GOP for Trump support MORE (Fla.), who are running for president, as well as Sens. Roy BluntRoy BluntSenate Dems' campaign arm knocks GOP for Trump support Trump, Clinton running even in Missouri Top Republican presses Kerry for Iran 'ransom' details MORE (Mo.), Mike CrapoMike CrapoGOP warming up to Cuba travel Ann Coulter: VP pick is Trump's first mistake Overnight Finance: Freedom Caucus moves to impeach IRS chief | Calls for US-UK trade talks | Clinton ally offers trade for Trump tax returns MORE (Idaho), Steve Daines (Mont.), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakePence earns GOP raves in first month as Trump VP GOP senator: Trump needs to offer specific apologies Reid: Dems could force Senate vote on Garland MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMike LeeThe impact of silence: The incarceration of children who have committed no crime Fidelity denies lobbying for student loan tax break Cruz, Lee question legality of Iran payment MORE (Utah), Jerry MoranJerry MoranMeet the rising GOP star who already enrages the left GOP warming up to Cuba travel Senate clears FAA authorization bill MORE (Kansas), James Risch (Idaho), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Tim ScottTim ScottTrump to address Family Research Council summit Skip the hashtags, how Conservatives can talk to Black people. Highlighting contributions of entrepreneurs, startup companies MORE (S.C.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and David VitterDavid VitterFive reasons the Trump campaign is in deep trouble Obama: Louisiana flooding 'not a photo op issue’ Louisiana senator calls on FEMA to open recovery centers MORE (La.) bucked McConnell to vote against the bill.

The 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which included a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, expired in 2007. Congress has not passed legislation to extend it since then.

Supporters of the Senate bill said the overhaul gets rid of the teach-to-the-test mentality that they argue has dominated public schools since No Child Left Behind's inception.

The legislation also includes updates from dozens of senators in reaction to recent events. 

For example, a provision from Sen. Tim KaineTim KaineKaine laughs off reputation as 'America's stepdad' on Colbert Kaine hits back at Trump over 'bigot' remark The Trail 2016: On the fringe MORE (D-Va.) would require schools that receive federal funding to report what they are doing to educate students about safe relationships. 

The measure comes after Kaine met with a group at the University of Virginia in the wake of now debunked Rolling Stone article about rape at the university. 

The bill now heads to a conference with House lawmakers, who passed a more conservative overhaul earlier this month. 

Alexander tried to downplay any potential conflict. 

"I've had numerous discussions with Chairman Kline," he said. "We know better than to try to make our institutions to do the same thing. ... There's some important differences and we'll have to work those out." 

Even if lawmakers are able to reconcile the bill, it's unclear if President Obama will sign it, with the administration expressing opposition to both the House and Senate bills.

This story was last updated at 5:12 p.m.

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