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House Set to Pass NCLB Rewrite Next Friday

The House is set to clear a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act next Friday.

A new schedule laid out Thursday afternoon would send the Republican-backed bill, which the education committee passed on a party-line vote Feb. 11, to the floor for debate Wednesday and Thursday, with a final vote scheduled for Friday morning.

The House Rules Committee, which sets parameters for how bills are debated on the floor, set a deadline for members to file any amendments they wish to offer by Monday at 3 p.m. The committee plans to set the rule for the bill Tuesday before it goes to the floor the following day.

What can we expect for debate on the floor?

For starters, take a look at all the failed amendments that committee Democrats offered during the markup. Those will likely be offered again, in some form or another. A source who has knowledge of the forthcoming process said that Democrats plan to break up the 17 amendments they offered during the markup into smaller amendments, meaning they could offer something like 40 amendments instead.

One to watch: An amendment offered by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., that would allow states to audit the number and quality of tests students take and to eliminate any that are deemed repetitive or of low quality. The proposal is based on a bill she introduced in January that has bipartisan backing.

When Bonamici offered the measure during markup, Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., agreed with the premise of the amendment, but he noted that it would authorize additional funding and create a new program, two things he opposes. He also said that by block-granting a majority of the funding in the bill, states would be free to audit tests on their own. In the end, she withdrew the testing amendment.

As for interesting Republican amendments to watch, everyone in the education policy world seems to be holding their collective breath to see if members pass an amendment that would allow Title I dollars for low-income students to be used at private schools.

As it stands, the Republican-backed bill would allow Title I money to follow students to the public school of their choice, including charter schools. During the committee markup, an amendment from Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., would have further altered Title I portability and allowed it to be used to pay for private schools, something Democrats and a hefty number of education advocates vehemently oppose.

The Title I portability language has quickly become the sticky wicket in efforts to rewrite the NCLB law.

Democrats blasted the proposal, arguing that it would take money away from the public school system, stifle accountability, and represents a slippery slope to a private voucher system. Allowing Title I dollars to flow to private schools is controversial even for Republicans—which is why Messer withdrew the amendment in the end.

It's widely believed that including such language in the bill would jeopardize its chances of passage. In fact, the last time an NCLB rewrite bill hit the floor of the House, then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wanted to offer an amendment that would allow Title I dollars to go to private schools. But because it was feared that the provision would sink the bill if adopted, Cantor never offered it after making a gentlemen's agreement with Kline.

Be on the lookout for similar back-room deals and legislative brinksmanship on this issue next week.

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