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 McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days 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 ReidSuper-PAC targets Portman on trade Dem leader urges compromise on FCC set-top box plan Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurrayOvernight Energy: Officials close in on new global emissions deal NBA pulls All-Star Game from NC over bathroom law 40 senators seek higher biodiesel mandate 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 CruzGuess which Cuban-American 2016 candidate best set themselves up for 2020? RNC chairman defends Trump linking Cruz’s dad to JFK assassin It's midnight in America 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 PaulWhat to watch for on Day 2 at the GOP convention Cyber squatters sitting on valuable VP web addresses Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioGuess which Cuban-American 2016 candidate best set themselves up for 2020? Budowsky: Why Warren masters Trump Meghan McCain: ‘I no longer recognize my party’ MORE (Fla.), who are running for president, as well as Sens. Roy BluntRoy BluntOvernight Energy: Officials close in on new global emissions deal 40 senators seek higher biodiesel mandate Top Dem Senate hopefuls to skip convention 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 FlakeVulnerable GOP senators praise Kaine GOP Sen. Flake offers Trump rare praise Booker denounces ‘lock her up' chants MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMike LeeObama signs opioid bill Thiel said to explain support for Trump in convention speech Convention erupts at Cruz snub 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 ScottDemocrats have a long way to go before they can tout their Hill diversity Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Senate condemns Dallas attack on police MORE (S.C.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and David VitterDavid VitterDavid Duke will bank on racial tensions in Louisiana Senate bid Former KKK leader David Duke running for Senate Six senators call on housing regulator to let Congress finish housing finance reform 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 KaineTrump, Clinton intelligence briefings likely to start next week Kaine: GOP will keep House majority Clinton: Benghazi security was ‘not my ball to carry’ 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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