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 McConnell9/11 bill is a global blunder that will weaken US efforts abroad States urged to bolster election security How the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill 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 ReidThe missed opportunity of JASTA States urged to bolster election security How the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurrayElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Congress approves .1B in Zika funds Lawmakers pledge push for cures bill in lame-duck 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 DuncanProposed Department of Education rule runs counter to ESSA's restrictions In search of the surest Common Core exit route The opt-out movement and the coddling epidemic 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 CruzJudge rejects attempt to stop internet oversight transfer Tech groups file court brief opposing internet transition suit Cruz criticizes federal law enforcement on terrorism 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 PaulHow low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? Lawmaker seeks to investigate Obama's foreign tax compliance law Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (Ky.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio, Heck help out at car crash scene Florida paper endorses Clinton, writes separate piece on why not Trump GOP lawmakers slam secret agreement to help lift Iran bank sanctions MORE (Fla.), who are running for president, as well as Sens. Roy BluntRoy BluntDem groups target Blunt with .3 million ad campaign The Trail 2016: Just a little kick Senate rivals gear up for debates MORE (Mo.), Mike CrapoMike CrapoLawmakers play catch-up as smartphone banking surges Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners Bank lobbyists counting down to Shelby’s exit MORE (Idaho), Steve Daines (Mont.), Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeOvernight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform GOP senators press Treasury to withdraw estate tax proposal Obama defeat is Schumer victory MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMike LeeICANN is already under foreign government influence: the proof is in the pudding Senators express 'grave concerns' about ObamaCare 'bailout' Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (Utah), Jerry MoranJerry MoranOvernight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform GOP senators press Treasury to withdraw estate tax proposal Senate panel advances ticket bots crackdown MORE (Kansas), James Risch (Idaho), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Tim ScottTim ScottGOP senator: Kaepernick protest 'a drastic mistake' GOP senators ask watchdog to examine Gitmo site surveys spending Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (S.C.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and David VitterDavid VitterGOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Louisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator Louisiana Republicans: This isn’t like Sandy 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 KaineFive things Trump can do to regain momentum The Trail 2016: Just a little kick Clinton camp touts 40 more GOP endorsements 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.