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 McConnellCongress fails on promises to restore regular order and stop funding by crisis Overnight Healthcare: Dems dig in over Zika funding Business groups ramp up pressure to fill Ex-Im board MORE’s (R-Ky.) six-month tenure as majority leader.
"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 ReidOvernight Finance: Obama signs Puerto Rico bill | Trump steps up attacks on trade | Dodd-Frank backers cheer 'too big to fail' decision | New pressure to fill Ex-Im board Iowa poll: Clinton up 14 on Trump, Grassley in tight race with Dem Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton creates firestorm for email case MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurraySenate Dems: No August break without Zika deal Senators press Obama education chief on reforms Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans 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 Hill's 12:30 Report Trump hires Florida chief strategist, new pollster Lynch pressured to recuse herself after Clinton tarmac meeting 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 campaign loses two more staffers Trump's new digital strategist quickly leaves campaign Trump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: Clinton-Lynch meeting ‘raises all sorts of red flags’ Which GOP pols will actually attend the convention? Poll: Rubio holds massive lead in primary MORE (Fla.), who are running for president, as well as Sens. Roy BluntRoy BluntSenate Dems: No August break without Zika deal Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Overnight Healthcare: Sanders, Clinton ally jockey for health gavel MORE (Mo.), Mike CrapoMike CrapoPost Orlando, hawks make a power play Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers Senate narrowly rejects new FBI surveillance MORE (Idaho), Steve Daines (Mont.), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeGOP senator: Trump could lose Arizona McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMike LeeThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief Trump to meet with Senate GOP next week First trans Senate candidate: My gender won’t be an issue MORE (Utah), Jerry MoranJerry MoranSenate panel approves lifting Cuba travel ban Boost in Afghan visas blocked in Senate Senate contradicts itself on Gitmo MORE (Kansas), James Risch (Idaho), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Tim ScottTim ScottTrump veepstakes in overdrive Police: 3 killed in Tel Aviv terrorist shooting GOP senators propose sending ISIS fighters to Gitmo MORE (S.C.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and David VitterDavid VitterFed chairwoman blasts Trump on debt Senate campaign posts private conversation on Facebook Rand Paul endorses in La. Senate race 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 KaineVeep auditions in overdrive Hispanics on Clinton's VP shortlist could help her win votes The Hill's 12:30 Report 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.