WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans on Wednesday finished their rewrite of GOP President George W. Bush's prized No Child Left Behind Act, sending to their colleagues a bill that would strip Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his successors of power and give more authority to the states.
Members of the Republican-led House Education and the Workforce Committee scrapped vast pieces of the existing education law in favor of an alternative they branded the Student Success Act. The updated version would allow state and local school chiefs — not Washington — to decide if students are being well served.
"I trust the teacher in the classroom a lot more than I trust anyone on this panel," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.
Democrats on the panel objected to the proposed revision, saying it shirks Washington's role in guaranteeing support for poor and minority students. They offered their own rewrite but it did not advance out of the GOP committee.
The revamped education plan was expected to head to the full House for a vote in coming weeks. Reducing Washington's role in education is an important plank for the GOP's base. Party leaders were eager to show tea partyers they were delivering on promises, such as vows to protect states from Washington imposing achievement benchmarks known as the Common Core State Standards.
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted those standards, which were developed by states. Some conservatives view the Common Core as Washington imposing its standards on local schools and were determined to stop them from taking hold.
"The secretary — or any single federal official — was never intended to have such unprecedented power. And Congress has a responsibility to protect the autonomy of states and school districts," said Rep. Todd Rokita, an Indiana Republican who chairs the subcommittee on early childhood, elementary and secondary education.
Republicans and Democrats alike on the panel agreed the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law had problems and said changes were needed. But Democrats objected to the GOP approach that shifts oversight authority to states and sends federal education dollars as a block grants to state leaders to decide how best to spend them.
"The Republican bill does a poor job of ensuring all students have access to high quality education," said Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas. He said students whose primary language is not English, those from poor areas, Native American and Alaskan Native students, and rural schools would suffer.
"This is clearly unacceptable at a time when our nation's schools are becoming increasingly diverse," Hinojosa said.
Other Democrats criticized the proposal for giving too much preference to charter schools, reducing the amount of data schools would be required to send to Washington and not emphasizing graduation rates.
Republicans dismissed those criticisms as distractions and said the bill included those requirements.
"As is always the case, it's important to actually sit down and read the legislation," said Rep. John Kline, the Republican chairman of the panel.
The latest development followed by less than 24 hours Duncan's statement telling states they could to be given another year before being required to use student test results to decide whether to keep or fire teachers. That requirement was part of a deal many states made with Duncan in exchange for permission to ignore No Child Left Behind.
"Instead of helping Congress fix the law, the Obama administration granted 37 states and the District of Columbia temporary, conditional waivers in exchange for implementing the president's preferred reforms," Kline said. "The result expanded federal control and raised serious questions about what the future could hold for our schools."
Most of the debate hinged on how much say Washington could have in schools.
"What this comes down to a real division in terms of trust," said Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.
One Democrat on the panel, Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, said he too was sympathetic to frustrations with Washington.
"I don't think we need to increase the federal role," Polis said. "It's not about reducing or increasing the federal role. It's about a disruptive federal role."
But Polis said Washington must guarantee "opportunity reaches every student in every corner of this land."
The Democratic-led Senate education panel already finished work on its rewrite of the law. The Senate version also shifted responsibility away from the one-size-fits-all requirements of the existing No Child Left Behind Act and would allow state officials to write their own school improvement plans.
But the Senate version still gives the education secretary the authority to approve or reject reform plans.
No vote has been scheduled for the Senate proposal. Aides suggested it could be autumn or later before the full Senate votes on that legislation.