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Conservative Groups Hope To Score This One Important Win In No Child Left Behind

CREDIT: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE, AP
CREDIT: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE, AP

Bipartisan legislation that would make changes to No Child Left Behind will be up for debate in Congress this week.

The legislation was pulled in February after support for the bill waned following opposition from The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank and Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group. The House Rules Committee is going to meet Tuesday at 5 p.m. to figure out which amendments will get votes.

Conservative groups want to include the A Plus Act amendment, a block grant that allows states to receive federal money without any strings attached. It’s likely to be considered next week, since it is seen as the premier amendment for those concerned with federal overreach. States would send proposals to the secretary of education to assure the U.S. Department of Education that they had certain safeguards in place. Those would include fiscal control procedures, include accountability to parents and other taxpayers and provide educational opportunities for disadvantaged students.

The debate on the ECAA has largely been one over how much more local control of schools the legislation should allow and whether or not testing requirements are still too punitive to schools that are already struggling. The reauthorization already allows states to carry the responsibility of setting their own improvement standards and the turnaround of low-performing schools would be controlled at the local level.

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The Heritage Foundation supports the A Plus amendment. It did not support the Student Success Act, which gives states more control over education and promotes charter schools, because it didn’t provide an opt-out for federal programs and mandates. The Student Success Act, introduced in 2013 and sponsored by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, was supposed to be an improvement on the Obama administration’s waivers of NCLB requirements.

“High-stakes testing has led to ‘teaching to the test’ from DC, a practice which privileges exhaustive test preparation over learning,” Heritage Action for America’s fact sheet on NCLB reads.

However, by giving the Secretary of Education the ability to sign-off on the state plans, the federal government may have more control than they did under the waivers, some advocates of more state control argue. According to PoliticoPro, The Heritage Foundation expects Kline to whip against the A-Plus amendment.

On the other side of the debate over ECAA, 33 civil rights groups signed a letter two weeks ago saying they don’t think the legislation empowers the U.S. Department of Education enough. The concern is that if there isn’t enough oversight over states, disadvantaged children’s progress won’t be adequately monitored. They want more accountability on student outcomes, data on all student groups and an increased focus on inequities between schools. Otherwise, they say it does not “fulfill its functions as a civil rights law.”

The House bill includes a portability provision, which means there isn’t an the ability to target federal funding toward communities with high concentrations of poverty. The Senate bill does not have that provision, but Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) may try to revive the provision since he supported including it in January.