Duncan: House education bill ‘a retreat from high standards’

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is unhappy with the bill to rewrite No Child Left Behind that passed the House on Friday.

In a statement after the narrow passage of the bill, called the Student Success Act, Duncan said that it “marks a retreat from high standards for all students and would virtually eliminate accountability for the learning of historically underserved students — a huge step backward for efforts to improve academic achievement.”

He added that the legislation “would lock in major cuts to education funding at a time when continued investments in education are the only way we can remain competitive on the world stage.”

The bill would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which gives federal money to local schools, by rewriting multiple portions of the George W. Bush-era law. It would eliminate 70 federal education programs, attempting to prohibit federal officials from intervening in local classrooms.

Its narrow passage Friday was strongly opposed by Democrats, all of whom voted against the bill. They worry that it neglects to provide federal protections for traditionally underserved students and provides no accountability to teachers and school districts.

House Republicans have cheered the measure as an opportunity for state and local governments to take control of their education systems.

In a statement after it passed, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who helped author the bill, said it “will tear down barriers to progress and grant states and districts the freedom and flexibility they need to think bigger, innovate, and take whatever steps are necessary to raise the bar in our schools.”

On Thursday, President Obama pledged to veto the bill if it ever came to his desk. 

The chances of that seem unlikely, though. 

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have crafted their own separate proposals with sharply divergent conceptions of the role of the federal government in local schools.

In the absence of a new law, the Obama administration has begun issuing waivers to No Child Left Behind’s requirements. Since 2011, 39 states and the District of Columbia have received clearance to develop their own standards.

However, Republicans have chided those waivers as replacing one federal mandate with another.