Republicans yet to schedule No Child Left Behind vote

By Philip Elliott
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican rewrite of the No Child Left Behind education law seems to be losing momentum as conservatives in the party don’t think the bill does enough to reduce Washington’s influence and moderates warily eye proposals that would expand charter schools’ role.

The sweeping education law’s update was the latest example of fractured Republicans in the House, where the party has a majority but often stumbles over internal disagreements.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently visited a Washington public charter school and pledged his support for such programs that compete with traditional public schools for students and dollars. The Virginia Republican also pledged to make it easier for public charter schools to attract taxpayer dollars through an amendment to the No Child Left Behind rewrite.

Cantor’s nod was an attempt to win over his caucus’ conservatives who have groused the revisions to the Bush-era law still put too much emphasis on centralized education programs and don’t offer enough freedom for such start-up schools.

“We intend to bring this to the floor as early as this week,” Cantor said of the bill after touring a charter school a few blocks from the Capitol.

“I think we will have success in getting Student Success Act across the floor because of the reform nature of the bill,” he added when reporters pressed him for a timeline.

But Cantor hasn’t yet scheduled a vote on the rewrite, which would scrap large swaths of the previous law in favor of greater local controls and severe reductions to the Education Department’s oversight role.

Republican officials said a vote could come as early as Thursday but also cautioned the Republicans were not rushing it if they weren’t sure they had the support.

It could be pushed to next week or later if House leaders were unconvinced it could pass with just Republican votes.

The bill is a more conservative proposal than the one President George W. Bush signed into law and eliminates dozens of school improvement programs.

It gives state and local officials the power to implement reforms and explicitly bars Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his successors from encouraging states to implement national standards known as the Common Core.

“Washington bureaucrats who have never visited a school in Alabama shouldn’t be making choices about my child’s education,” said Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala.

The bill also sends to states money in a block grant to teach English-language learners, students from poor families and rural students.

States could decide which students would benefit most from those dollars.But that hasn’t proved enough for some, including Cantor.He has introduced an amendment that would essentially attach to each student’s book bag that child’s federal dollars. If a student switches from a public school to a public charter school, so, too, would the dollars.

Cantor’s proposal is an attempt to win over conservatives, who want parents to have more choices. But Cantor’s amendment excludes private or religious schools, which some Republicans have proposed be eligible for tax dollars.

At the same time, Cantor’s proposal was unlikely to win over moderates who worry too much of a shift from traditional public schools would only lower their quality.

In near unanimity, Democrats are expected to oppose the measure, which they have called the “Letting Students Down Act.”

The conservative Heritage Foundation, led by tea party giant former Sen. Jim DeMint, has said the bill doesn’t do enough to eliminate Washington’s role and still prescribes too many requirements.

At the same time, Republican Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey and Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah have each introduced measures that would allow states to opt out of student testing.

Others have been pushing for greater flexibility for private or parochial schools.

A Senate panel has already completed its work on a rewrite of No Child Left Behind. It, too, limits the Education Department’s role and lets states write their own plans to improve schools.

Unlike the GOP proposal, the secretary of education retains his approval role under Senate Democrats’ bill.

A vote of all senators has not been scheduled. Aides expect it would be fall — if not later — before it makes its way to the full chamber.

Even if Cantor were to win approval of his amendment, it’s not clear charter schools could accommodate any more students as quickly as he would like.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates that wait lists for desks in their programs approached 1 million names during the 2012-13 school year, That increase in wait time comes even as another 275,000 new students enrolled in charter schools.