U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to make sweeping changes to the nation's public education system after the Senate Wednesday passed a revamp of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind law. Senators voted 85-12 in support after the House passed the measure, officially known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, in an overwhelming vote last week.
“Finding a serious replacement for No Child Left Behind eluded Washington for years," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. "Today it will become another bipartisan achievement for our country. The new Congress and the new Senate have had a habit this year of turning third rails into bipartisan achievements."
The overhaul will transfer more decision-making power back to state and local governments. It keeps annual reading and math testing requirements for grades 3 through 8 but allows high school students to undergo the testing only once before graduating. It also continues the requirement that schools annually report achievement scores and keep track of race, economic status, disabilities and English-learner status.
"Whereas No Child Left Behind prescribed a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to struggling schools, this law offers the flexibility to find the best local solutions -- while also ensuring that students are making progress," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday morning at an event in Washington. Obama plans to sign the bill Friday.
— Kyla Campbell (@KylaCampbellDC) December 9, 2015
Some Republicans had fought the changes because they had hoped to pass legislation that would further limit the federal government's role in local-education policies and allow more school choice programs. "The American people expect the Republican majority to do better," Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican presidential candidate, said in a statement ahead of the vote. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., another GOP candidate, also opposed the legislation.
Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, said the legislation "strikes a balance between accountability for serving all students and closing achievement gaps with flexibility to allow state and local actors to meet local needs."
The National Association of State Boards of Education also applauded the change. “ESSA gives state and local leaders flexibility to meet the needs of diverse students in their states,” NASBE Executive Director Kristen Amundson said. “We know that ensuring that every child is prepared for college, a career and active citizenship will be a challenge for states to address in the coming years, particularly as our schools become more diverse."