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Conservative Plan Would Shift Accountability to the States

By David J. Hoff — March 13, 2007 3 min read
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Conservative Republicans in Congress plan to introduce a plan to dismantle the No Child Left Behind Act’s accountability measures and give states wide latitude in spending the $23.1 billion a year currently appropriated under the law.

Acknowledging that the proposal will likely face nearly insurmountable opposition, the House sponsor of the measure said it nevertheless would generate support among GOP members because it reflects the party’s traditional belief that the federal government should play a limited role in setting education policy.

The NCLB law is the “greatest expansion” of federal control over education since Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., who is third most senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

“We have clearly moved on the road to … federal government schools,” Mr. Hoekstra said at a seminar on the 5-year-old law at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based here.

Rep. Hoekstra, who voted against the legislation in 2001, said he expects to recruit more than 41 co-sponsors for his bill, which he plans to introduce this week. He considers that number important because that’s how many House Republicans voted against the NCLB bill when it passed in December 2001. “There will be significantly more opposition to No Child Left Behind in 2007 than there was in 2001,” he said in the interview.

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jim DeMint, R-S.C., plan to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

The NCLB law, an overhaul of the ESEA, was pushed by President Bush and passed Congress with broad bipartisan support. The House approved the bill, 381-41, and the Senate voted 87-10 in favor of it.

Uphill Battle

Under the GOP conservatives’ plan, state officials would agree to take full responsibility for setting education policies for their states. They also would promise to use accountability systems of their own design to report on the progress toward meeting their achievement goals.

That contrasts with the current law’s detailed accountability system, which requires annual testing in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school, as well as reports on the yearly progress that districts and schools are making in meeting the goal that all children be proficient in those subjects by the 2013-14 school year.

Districts and schools must also meet those goals for various demographic, ethnic, and racial subgroups.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and a leading House Democrat said they oppose Rep. Hoekstra’s plan because it would remove any meaningful accountability for the use of federal K-12 money.

“We tried that approach for 40 years,” Ms. Spellings told reporters last week, referring to lax accountability under previous versions of the ESEA, which was first enacted in 1965. “We need and deserve accountability for our kids.”

“I don’t know why we would invest federal dollars in a system where there’s no accountability,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who spoke with reporters along with Ms. Spellings after they each had received awards from the Semiconductor Industry Association for their work in trying to improve math and science education.

With such opposition, Rep. Hoekstra said, “clearly you’re going uphill.” But he added that support for his proposal could help derail attempts in the pending reauthorization of the NCLB law to expand testing or add other new burdens on states and districts.

Republicans supported the No Child Left Behind bill in 2001 because they wanted to support the president’s chief domestic goal in the first year of his term, according to former Rep. Dick Armey, a Texas Republican who was the House majority leader at the time. Mr. Armey voted for the bill for that reason and regrets doing so, he said at the Cato Institute seminar.

With Mr. Bush nearing the end of his presidency, many Republicans in Congress will be less likely to defer to him as they did in 2001, Mr. Armey said.

“People are going home and listening to their school boards and listening to their parents saying, ‘We want our schools back,’ ” Rep. Hoekstra told the audience at the Cato Institute.

A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as Conservative Plan Would Shift Accountability to the States

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