There's nothing like a congressional stage to expose the actual support (or lack thereof) of a legislative idea. When it comes to rewriting No Child Left Behind, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, compromised with Republicans so much that the Education Department is backing away from the bill; education-reform groups and civil-rights advocates outright oppose it. And yet he still couldn't please many in the GOP.
The committee passed the bill on a 15-7 vote last week, with the help of all Democrats. Only three out of 10 Republicans on the panel supported the bill, and that was with the caveat that the measure will change a great deal before they can vote 'yes' on the Senate floor. Meanwhile, Education Secretary Arne Duncan is saying with regard to the bill: "American cannot retreat from reform." It does not bode well.
There are some bright spots. The National Education Association is thrilled with the bill, in part because it includes flexibility language on turnaround models for schools. The American Federation of Teachers commended the measure for emphasizing children with the greatest needs and moving schools toward college and career ready standards. Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, who heads the Alliance for Excellent Education, noted that the bill brings much-needed money and other enticements to turn around low performing high schools.
Still, the complaints from Republicans (and opposite ones from education-reform groups) indicate it will be a tough sledding to get the bill through the Senate. The House may be impossible. Sitting in the background is the Education Department's state waiver program for No Child Left Behind. Odds are it will be the waiver program, and not Congress, that will function as the states' ticket out of the outdated benchmarks under current law.
What did we learn from watching the Senate HELP Committee wrestle with this bill? How do the protests from civil rights and education-reform advocates affect the bill's chances? What impact will Republicans, many of whom want almost no federal involvement in schools, have on the debate? Where do we go from here?