Opposition Mounts to Democrats' Education Plan

A Democrat-drafted bill to reauthorize No Child Left Behind is meeting stiff resistance from House Republican leaders, who have vowed to oppose new federal regulations and more education programs.

The draft legislation, written by House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D.-Calif.), guts the few provisions of the law that conservatives support, including progress accountability and school-choice options. With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) hoping to get something done this year, all eyes are focused on Miller.

But rather than work with Miller to improve the bill, conservatives on Capitol Hill have decided the proposal is so bad that there’s virtually no hope of making it better. Their steadfast opposition is partly responsible for a letter House Minority Leader John Boehner (R.-Ohio) sent to Miller and ranking Republican member Rep. Buck McKeon (Calif.) last week outlining his concerns.

“NCLB reauthorization is an opportunity to renew our commitment to the reform principles that brought Democrats and Republicans together in 2001 — not to retreat from them, as many Washington education lobbyists advocate — and to write a better law than the one signed by President Bush in January 2002,” wrote Boehner, who indicated he would not support the bill in its current form.

Working Behind the Scenes

Republicans are working behind the scenes to advise McKeon against compromising with Miller. Just hours after Boehner sent his letter, McKeon signaled that he might be willing to come out against the bill.

“I have been clear from the outset of this process that my goal is to lend my support to a bipartisan bill that strengthens the law and maintains its core principles of accountability, flexibility and parental choice,” he said. “Any proposal that backs away from these principles will be met with my steadfast opposition.”

With many conservatives already flocking to an alternative known as the A-PLUS Act, the loss of McKeon would doom any attempt by Miller to pass a bipartisan bill.

Among the concerns voiced by conservatives are changes to the No Child Left Behind’s testing and school-reform requirements. Miller’s proposal would also provide more loopholes for bureaucrats while offering less transparency for parents. It weakens testing requirements for certain student groups such as English-language learners, and encourages a return to bilingual education in public schools.

Environmental and Multicultural Education

The draft language further weakens the already limited school-choice provisions of the law. Fewer students would have the opportunity to participate in after-school tutoring or transfer from public schools.

Miller also hopes to create more than a dozen new federal programs on issues that include environmental education and native Hawaiian, Alaskan and Indian education.

These changes have been met with resistance at the U.S. Department of Education. Secretary Margaret Spellings has criticized Miller’s attempt to water down the penalties schools face for failing to live up to the law’s testing requirements.

Possible Veto

“We must not make the law so ‘flexible’ that it loses its power or its urgency,” Spellings politely chided Miller at a recent event in Washington.

Spellings, who has faced questions from conservatives about her commitment to school choice, doesn’t support the cutbacks in Miller’s proposal. She is reportedly willing to advise President Bush against signing new legislation, opting to bypass reauthorization and continue working under the policies in the existing law.