Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a potential replacement to the much-derided No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law Wednesday evening.
The bill, titled HR5 and dubbed the Student Success Act, barely squeaked by, passing just 218-213, the bare minimum to have a majority. 27 Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic coalition against the bill.
Officially, the bill reauthorizes No Child Left Behind, but it actually replaces major swaths of it, rolling back federal control of education in many areas. The bill explicitly bars the federal government from compelling states to adopt Common Core or any other set of standards, and also gives state and local government significantly more control over how they assess the performance of schools and teachers.
Todd Rokita, chair of the House elementary education subcommittee, touted the bill’s passage as a big conservative victory.
“The Student Success Act stops this administration and future administrations from promoting a backdoor agenda that includes Common Core,” said Rokita in a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “More importantly, the bill takes control away from Washington bureaucrats and puts it back where it belongs: with moms, dads, teachers, and state and local leaders who can directly and meaningfully deliver a quality education to students.”
Still, the bill has had to overcome significant opposition on the right from members and activists who believed the bill wasn’t conservative enough. The bill was initially scheduled for a vote back in February before being abruptly pulled from the floor when Republican leaders feared it didn’t have enough votes to pass. At the time, many conservative members were upset about their amendment proposals being ignored or rejected, and there was also a small panic when some members received a wave of calls from parents who mistakenly believed the bill would mandate Common Core and impose federal control on religious schools. (RELATED: No, Congress Isn’t About To Mandate Common Core)
This time around, Republican leaders allowed several amendment votes. Helping the bill reach majority support was an amendment authored by Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona, which grants parents the right to opt their children out of federally-required standardized tests. Salmon’s amendment passed 251-178, both assuaging conservatives opposed to federal mandates and pleasing moderates skeptical of high-stakes testing.
A major amendment that failed to pass was one by Republican Reps. Mark Walker and Ron DeSantis that would have allowed states to opt out of federal requirements entirely without losing federal funds. This amendment was a favorite of conservative advocacy groups such as Heritage Action, but failed when more than 40 moderate Republicans joined Democrats to kill it.
While the bill isn’t as conservative as some wanted, Democrats are also unhappy, particularly over a provision of the bill that ties federal aid for poor students to individual children rather than schools. This provision, known as portability, will shift resources from the poorest schools to more economically well-off ones, Democrats say. Democrats also wanted a major increase to federal preschool aid.
“Instead of supporting the schools and educators that need it most, this bill shifts resources away from them,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “This bill—which was passed in an entirely partisan fashion—represents a huge step backward for America’s students. They deserve better.”
The Obama Administration has already promised to veto the bill if it comes to the president’s desk, so the law is unlikely to ever be enacted as-is. However, the Senate is working on its own, more moderate NCLB reform bill, and having HR5 passed will put House Republican leaders in the position to move that bill to the right in a conference committee.
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