House to debate bill to replace education law

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By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are seeking to put their own stamp on national educational policy Friday with legislation that would replace the No Child Left Behind law and its standardized tests and return control over school performance to states and local school districts, greatly diminishing the role of the federal government.

The vote on the GOP Student Success Act was expected to be close, with few or no Democrats in support, but the ultimate outcome was certain: The White House said the bill would engender a veto, and the Democratic-led Senate was writing its own, very different bill.

The theme of the Republican bill was that state and local governments, not Washington, should be determining the best ways of improving student performance. Democrats said the bill would cut funding and allow states to lower achievement standards.

"This legislation will restore local control, empower parents, eliminate unnecessary Washington red tape and intrusion in schools and support innovation and excellence in the classroom," said Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn.

The bill would replace No Child Left Behind, a blueprint for raising student achievement levels that was the bipartisan product of, among others, current House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and was signed into law in early 2002 by President George W. Bush. The act required students at public schools receiving federal funds to take standardized tests and held schools and teachers accountable for raising the success rates of their students on those tests, among its provisions. It expired in 2007.

There was no argument on the need to make significant changes to the law, but Democrats denounced the Republican approach.

"This bill guts funding for public education, abdicates the federal government's responsibility to ensure every child has an equal opportunity to a quality education, and it walks away from our duty to hold school systems accountable," said Rep. George Miller of California, top Democrat on the education committee and a partner with Boehner and Kennedy in writing the No Child Left Behind law.

The White House, in its veto threat, said the bill "would not support state efforts to hold students to standards that will prepare them for college and careers, would not support our international economic competitiveness (and) would virtually eliminate accountability for the growth and achievement of historically underserved populations."

Democrats claimed the bill could also allow states to establish separate and unequal tracks for students with disabilities.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said many would like to eliminate the federal government's role in education, but the bill was "a reasonable first step in empowering the people closest to the students to make decisions for those students." Control from Washington has not brought educational improvements, she said.

The bill would eliminate the law's adequate yearly progress metric and let states develop accountability systems. It would get rid of federally mandated actions against poorly performing schools, again letting states and local governments determine improvement strategies. States and school systems would be directed to develop their own teacher-evaluation systems.

It would eliminate more than 70 existing elementary and secondary education programs, replacing them with block grant money that states and school districts could use as they think best.

It would also bar the education secretary from imposing conditions on states in exchange for waivers of federal law and encouraging states to implement national achievement standards known as the common core. The expansion of high-quality charter schools would be encouraged, and parents would be given more choices in picking schools that meet their needs.

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