WASHINGTON - House Republicans voted Friday to dismantle the troubled No Child Left Behind law for evaluating America's students and schools, saying states and local school districts rather than Washington should be setting rules for ensuring that kids are getting good educations.
The legislation would eliminate federally required testing of students, which has been controversial from the start. But the measure passed with no Democratic support and drew a veto threat from the Obama administration, which said it would be a "step backward" in efforts to better prepare children for colleges and careers and to bring improvements to low-performing schools.
Democrats in the Senate, where they hold the majority, are working on their own bill. It would also give states greater flexibility in designing school improvement standards. But it would maintain the authority of the federal education secretary to approve those plans. A Senate vote on that legislation is unlikely until autumn.
The House bill, which Republicans named the Student Success Act and Democrats dubbed the Letting Students Down Act, passed 221-207, with every Democrat, and 12 Republicans voting against it.
That partisanship comes against a background in which nearly everyone agrees that No Child Left Behind, while achieving some successes in improving achievement levels, is too inflexible and needs a major overhaul.
The law was passed by Congress in 2001, a bipartisan effort led by, among others, current House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. President George W. Bush was a strong supporter and signed it into law in early 2002.
It required that all students be able to read and do math at their actual grade level by 2014. But the Obama administration, in a tacit acknowledgement that the goal was unattainable, last year began offering waivers to states that came up with their own federally approved plans to prepare students for college and careers and to measure student and teacher performance. To date, 39 states and the District of Columbia have been granted waivers.
President Barack Obama said he was forced to act because Congress had failed to update the law. Republicans charged that he was using the waivers to bypass Congress.
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., said the proposed first revamping of education law in more than a decade was a "monumental step" that would "grant states and districts the freedom and flexibility they need to think bigger, innovate, and take whatever steps are necessary to raise the bar in our schools."
"Let's get Washington out of the way to ensure a brighter future for our children," said Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala.