Editorial: Congress, give No Child Left Behind the boot

The Detroit News

Members of Congress have the best shot in nearly a decade to replace the onerous and unsuccessful No Child Left Behind federal education law. There is no doubt change is needed, and GOP lawmakers should not waste a good opportunity to offer states true relief from heavy and ineffective federal oversight.

Congress has long considered how best to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — which is No Child Left Behind in its current form. It technically expired in 2007. Former President George W. Bush pushed No Child when it passed in 2001, but despite significantly adding to education spending, the standards have not raised student performance as they were intended to do.

Lindsey Burke, education policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, has followed debates over revising the federal education law. And she’s not impressed by the latest House or Senate versions, even though they’d make some reductions to the federal role in K-12 schools.

“Both are huge missed opportunities,” Burke says of the bills. “They are more similar than they are different.”

She thinks Congress must do even more to scale back federal control, and give states more authority to measure their own students’ progress.

The House last week passed its option — the Student Success Act — by a slim margin, 218-213, and with no Democrat support. The full Senate approved its blueprint Thursday, 81-17.

The versions vary enough that there will be wrangling between the chambers before a final version emerges.

Plus, the Obama administration has voiced its displeasure with both bills in their current form. And it has threatened to veto the House plan.

The White House doesn’t want to cut the intense oversight attached to federal dollars, and it especially doesn’t like the House measure that would make Title I funding for low-income students more portable. Currently, that money is directed to schools; House lawmakers want the money to go to students and follow them to the schools of their choice.

In addition, the administration has taken advantage of Congress’ inaction and worked around No Child Left Behind by offering states waivers from the unrealistic standards, as long as they agreed to Education Department conditions.

States, desperate to get out from under No Child, were eager to sign on to the waivers, which included incentives to adopt the nationally developed Common Core education benchmarks. The administration would lose much of this influence if the education law is reauthorized.

It’s worth noting that nothing in this current legislation would impact Common Core; that’s up to states if they wish out of those standards.

Many conservatives — including 80 percent of the House GOP — have pushed for wider reforms to the education law, which are part of an amendment called “A-PLUS.” The amendment failed in the House this time around, but it would allow states to opt out fully of the nearly 80 programs under No Child Left Behind and instead direct federal funding toward state initiatives. It’s worth revisiting.

It is also discouraging that a GOP-controlled Congress isn’t doing more to tackle the high costs of federal oversight. No Child provisions have added $24 billion a year in education spending, with much of it not reaching the classroom. The House and Senate bills would do little to reduce expenditures.

No Child Left Behind’s intention was to increase student achievement through more federal accountability. But that top-heavy, burdensome approach has failed. Congress should act now to reduce the federal footprint in education and return more control to states, where it belongs.