Cantor: House could vote this week on revamp of No Child Left Behind law

The House could vote “as early as this week” on a Republican bill overhauling federal education law, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Tuesday after he and other lawmakers toured a high-performing public charter school in Washington.

Cantor and members of the Education and Workforce Committee used the trip to tout the Student Success Act, which would eliminate more than 70 programs while providing more support for charter schools.

The bill, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, would also scrap a number of requirements in former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

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Democrats oppose the legislation, but the Republican lawmakers focused on the provisions dealing with charter schools, which have more bipartisan support. They highlighted the success of the Two Rivers Public Charter School, a top-tier D.C. school that received more than 1,800 applications for 32 open slots in 2013.

“My takeaway is really that the future of our country starts at schools like this,” Cantor said after the tour and a roundtable discussion with parents and administrators.

The Student Success Act, Cantor said, “speaks to parents and kids that would like an experience like this. It institutes reform in our education process, and it will expand the ability of the likes of Two Rivers and others to accept more students and to see more success.”

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the education committee, called the school a “wonderful success story” but lamented that more parents did not have the opportunity to send their children to schools like Two Rivers.

“It breaks my heart to think of the hundreds who didn’t win the lottery and hoping for a chance for their kids to succeed,” Kline said.

Cantor said he would be offering an amendment that would essentially create a voucher system for public schools.

His amendment would grant more flexibility to states to allow Title I federal funding for educating low-income students to “follow the student” to other public schools, including magnet and charter schools. Currently, funding goes to schools that have the most Title I students.

While some conservatives have pushed to allow that funding to also follow students to private schools, Cantor defended his move to keep it limited to the public school arena.

“I believe strongly in our public schools and the role that they play in the future of this country,” he said, noting that his three children attended public schools in suburban Richmond. “My amendment is designed to empower parents within the public school system and charter schools — and charter schools are public schools — to expand their choice.”

The Student Success Act reflects the rightward movement of the House Republican conference in the decade since the passage of the bipartisan, Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) helped write No Child Left Behind as chairman of the education committee, but he has not taken a high-profile role in re-writing the law beyond pushing for the continuation of the D.C. voucher program.

Democrats have denounced the bill for gutting the accountability standards in the law in favor of restoring local control of education, a priority for conservatives.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday dubbed it the “Letting Student Down” act.

“We believe this is a bad bill, goes in the wrong direction,” he told reporters, as he noted opposition from groups on both the left and the right, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Heritage Foundation.

Hoyer voiced doubts that Republicans could even muster the votes to pass it.

Cantor would not say definitively whether the bill would get a vote this week, but he voiced confidence Republicans could move it through the House.

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