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Efforts to Make NCLB Rewrite More Conservative Could Snag Process


The House committee that sets the rules for how bills are debated on the floor of the chamber held a meeting Tuesday evening. And if you were lucky enough to tune in, you got a little preview of what we'll likely see when lawmakers in the House begin debating the Republican-backed rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act on Thursday.

The chairman of the education committee, U.S. Rep John Kline, R-Minn., was on hand to present his bill, along with Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio (who was filling in for Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the top Democrat of the education committee). Members of the rules committee got to ask questions about the measure before deciding later today which of the 125 amendments filed will actually see the light of day when the bill is brought to the floor.

As expected, Republicans praised Kline and the bill for looking to shrink the education footprint of the federal government and to return decisions about things like accountability and funding back to states and local school districts.

Democrats, meanwhile, blasted the measure, arguing that it flies in the face of the law's civil rights intent and that, if enacted, would roll back protections for the most-disadvantaged students.

Perhaps the most important preview, however, came in a comment from Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., who didn't think the bill was conservative enough, and gave Kline a hard time about it.

Woodall said he is hearing from constituents and special interest groups that Kline didn't go far enough in representing the GOP's interests.

"I'm hearing from constituents who are saying, 'That John Kline, why is he working across the aisle?'" Woodall said.

This is something to watch for tomorrow during floor debate. Republicans who don't think the bill goes far enough in restoring education decisions to the states could gum up the works.

Already, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy think tank based in Washington, has emailed House Republicans underscoring that the bill doesn't include provisions that would give states the option of fully opting out of accountability requirements, does not do enough to reduce what it considers out-of-control spending, and doesn't include language that would allow Title I funds for low-income students to be used at private schools.

Republicans filed amendments to the bill that would address each of those issues. If adopted, they could create an intraparty wedge that would make it difficult for Kline to secure the votes he needs to pass what otherwise would likely be an easy party-line vote.

The rules committee is slated to meet Wednesday at 3 p.m. to decide which of the 125 amendments filed to the bill will be offered during floor debate tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Democrats began mounting an defense Wednesday morning.

UPDATE (11:07AM):

The White House issued its official veto threat, saying in a State of Administration Policy that they are not happy about what they see as a big step on back on accountability, particularly for the poor and minority kids that NCLB was designed to help.

In addition, members of the congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American caucuses held a press call in which they pushed back against the bill.

Scott, who is a member of the black caucus, said the Republican bill would "turn the clock back on education and jeopardize the civil rights of young people."

The most detrimental part of the bill, Scott said, are funding provisions that would freeze authorizations at fiscal year 2012 levels, eliminate maintenance of effort, and make Title I dollars for low-income students portable.

"It diverts the focus of the money from where it really needs to be," Scott said. "The poorest districts would get less and the wealthy areas would get more. You have to wonder, if that's the solution, what do they perceive as the problem?"

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