President Obama is using Presidents Day to denounce ongoing efforts in the House to reform No Child Left Behind, a move that could be damaging to efforts to replace the 13-year-old law.
Since the start of 2015, Republicans in both the House and Senate have been working to draft legislation that would replace the law that has dictated the direction of American education for the past 13 years, and is now almost universally regarded as badly outdated.
For most of the process, the White House had remained aloof, but that changed Friday when the White House released a report arguing that the House Republicans’ proposal, dubbed the Student Success Act, would gut funding for the nation’s most challenged schools.
Obama doubled down on the attack over the weekend, releasing a Valentine’s Day message suggesting that Republicans are sabotaging education instead of fixing it.
“It’s pretty commonsense that an education bill should actually improve education,” Obama said. “But as we speak, there’s a Republican bill in Congress that would frankly do the opposite.”
“This Congress would… turn back the clock to a time when too many students were left behind in failing schools,” he continued. Obama’s attack focused on a component of the House proposal which would give states greater freedom to control how Title I grants to low-income schools are distributed. Allowing these funds to be tied to individual students rather than entire schools, Obama says, would cut off money to the schools that most need it.
This is the first time Obama has directly inserted himself into the ongoing congressional debate on education reform. It also marks new territory for administration criticism. Before the congressional proposals were introduced, the administration focused on keeping federal requirements that states have annual standardized tests in reading and mathematics. Having won that argument (the House bill keeps annual testing), Obama has decided to start a new fight.
While Obama didn’t explicitly threaten to veto the Student Success Act should it land on his desk, it’s clear he sharply opposes it, and it raises the question of whether there is any hope of actually changing No Child Left Behind. Title I portability is the most significant conservative aspect of the bill, and eliminating it could leave Republicans too unhappy to support an even more lukewarm proposal.
Rep. John Kline, head of the House education committee and the leader of the party’s efforts there to reform NCLB, released a statement sharply attacking the White House for its interference.
“The White House has entered the realm of make-believe,” Kline argued. “The White House is using scare tactics and budget gimmicks to kill K-12 education reform, because they know a new law will lead to less control in the hands of Washington bureaucrats and more control in the hands of parents and education leaders.”
Kline also disputed Obama’s claims that the law would result in any cuts to education funding, pointing out that it would increase overall Title I funding by $500 million while keeping overall funding constant for several years.
“Only the Obama White House calls current funding a cut,” he said.
Regardless of White House attacks, the Student Success Act is likely to be voted on by the House within the next two weeks.
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