House narrowly votes to renew No Child Left Behind after drama

Francis Rivera

The House on Wednesday voted to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law, resurrecting a bill that Republican leaders were forced to pull from the floor earlier this year due to conservative opposition.

Passage fell narrowly along party lines on a vote of 218-213, with 27 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition to nearly derail it on the floor. 

For most of the roll call, the bill had more votes against it than in favor. Many Republicans either held out their votes until the last minute or changed their votes under pressure from GOP leaders.

Conservative lawmakers had pushed for the adoption of several amendments allowing schools to opt out of No Child Left Behind requirements. Only one of those amendments, from Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), was adopted, with lawmakers voting 251-178 to allow parents to exempt their children from testing.

{mosads}“Parents are becoming increasingly fed up with such constant and onerous testing requirements, as well as the teachers,” Salmon said during floor debate.

A separate proposal from Reps. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) would have allowed states to opt out of No Child Left Behind and still receive federal funding. That amendment failed 195-235, as 49 Republicans aligned with Democrats to defeat it.

Heritage Action, an influential conservative group, said the opt-out amendment was critical for passage.

“The underlying bill is not worth passing unless this amendment is adopted,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said.

The education measure is the second bill House GOP leaders have resuscitated after stumbles at the start of the year. Leadership pulled the education bill from the House floor in February, on the same day legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security collapsed, due to a lack of votes.

Many conservatives were frustrated at the time by GOP leaders preventing votes on the amendments which were ultimately allowed floor time on Wednesday.  

Similarly, the House passed legislation in May banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy after the initial version in January encountered opposition from centrists and Republican women.

The Senate is currently considering a more bipartisan version of legislation to renew No Child Left Behind. If it passes, it will have to be reconciled with the more conservative House bill, which gives states more authority over education policy.

But even if Congress manages to negotiate a compromise, there’s no guarantee that President Obama will sign it, as the administration has expressed opposition to both the House and Senate bills.

The 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which included a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), expired in 2007. Congress has not passed legislation to extend it since then.

Since 2011, the Obama administration has been issuing waivers from No Child Left Behind in response to demands from governors and school districts.

Both the House and Senate bills prohibit the Department of Education from exerting control over state academic standards. The provisions would apply to Common Core, which establishes English and math standards for all grade levels through high school. 

On the left, civil rights groups are objecting to a provision in the House bill that they fear will deprive schools with low-income populations of adequate funding. The measure would allow federal funds provided to high-poverty localities to “follow” students who transfer to another school, even if they enroll in a wealthier school that doesn’t have as tight a budget.

Democrats said the amendments allowing states to opt out of No Child Left Behind heightened their concerns that disadvantaged students would be shortchanged.

“The amendment would literally let states just take the money and run,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The revolt from conservatives and unanimous opposition from Democrats stands in contrast to the original 2002 law, which was hailed as a major bipartisan compromise between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), then the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), and President George W. Bush.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the only Republican running for president in 2016 who supports Common Core. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who once endorsed the standards, announced this year that his state would eliminate them.

Tags Bobby Scott Boehner John Boehner Matt Salmon No Child Left Behind
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