But chances of brokering a bipartisan deal this year appear slim, insiders say.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. John Kline is making a push to reform the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the third year in a row, and he’s likely to encounter the same problems that derailed previous attempts.
Most members of Congress agree the 11-year-old law has passed its prime, but partisan divide and in-party rumbling among Republicans have blocked efforts to replace it.
Much to Kline’s chagrin, the failure to pass legislation has allowed the Obama administration to sidestep Congress and set the national agenda on K-12 education.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has issued waivers to 37 states, including Minnesota, granting them a reprieve from the most rigid demands of the law. In exchange for the waivers, states agree to make changes in education policy endorsed by President Obama.
“Our system is not supposed to have one person determine education policy for this country,” said Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “That’s what Congress is for.”
But since the law expired in 2007, partisanship has trumped compromise, with the GOP-led House and Democrat-controlled Senate passing a series of party-line bills that stalled after passing one chamber. To complicate matters for Kline, a faction of conservative Republicans bent on dismantling No Child Left Behind has rebuked his efforts to change the legislation.
For all its perceived flaws, the law first championed by President George W. Bush is having its intended effect — improving education for poorly performing students, said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
But complaints about the law’s demands continue to mount. As the standards tick upward, schools are struggling to keep up. By next year, the law requires that all schools bring 100 percent of their students to proficiency in math and English and will impose funding cuts on those that fail to do so.
That, Loveless said, is “a utopian goal and it’s not going to happen.”
Kline has heard similar sentiments from educators since he was elected to Congress in 2002.
“People were excited with the notion of leaving no child behind … but the ink was hardly dry on the bill and there were problems,” Kline said.
A reauthorized bill would render the requirements obsolete, but roadblocks remain.
A House vote looms this month on Kline’s rewrite, which would retain the No Child Left Behind testing requirements, but leave the school improvement decisions to states. It also would combine a number of education programs, including those for English language learners and migrant children, to give districts more freedom in how they spend federal funds.
The proposed fix is backed by the American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association and education experts such as Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the Washington, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute.
Kline’s bill is a sharp departure from legislation backed by Senate Democrats, which would leave the current No Child Left Behind remedies in place.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of urban school districts that includes Minneapolis and St. Paul, oppose Kline’s bill, saying it would weaken accountability of schools that serve low income, minority and special education students.