The Washington Post: The most important bill for 2016

Posted on July 13, 2015

The House on Wednesday arguably passed a bill that will have the most impact on the GOP presidential nomination of any this year. That is saying a lot considering the House (and Senate) passed Corker-Menendez (to give Congress an up-or-down vote on any final Iran deal), trade promotion authority, the first significant entitlement reform bill (the permanent “doc fix”), anti-human trafficking legislation and the Keystone XL pipeline. The important legislation turns out to be an education bill. The Hill reports:

The House on Wednesday voted to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law, resurrecting a bill that Republican leaders were forced to pull from the floor earlier this year due to conservative opposition.

Passage fell narrowly along party lines on a vote of 218-213, with 27 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition to nearly derail it on the floor.

For most of the roll call, the bill had more votes against it than in favor. Many Republicans either held out their votes until the last minute or changed their votes under pressure from GOP leaders.

Conservative lawmakers had pushed for the adoption of several amendments allowing schools to opt out of No Child Left Behind requirements. Only one of those amendments, from Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), was adopted, with lawmakers voting 251-178 to allow parents to exempt their children from testing.

The Senate has a separate but similar bill, championed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) Like the House bill it will clarify that the feds cannot meddle in curriculum or use federal funding to coerce the states into adopting Common Core. (“Both the House and Senate bills prohibit the Department of Education from exerting control over state academic standards. The provisions would apply to Common Core, which establishes English and math standards for all grade levels through high school.”) Jeb Bush has already said he supports efforts like Alexander’s that put to rest the notion that Common Core is a federal power grab.

Right-wing groups like Heritage Action (the same crowd that goaded the GOP into the 2013 shutdown) opposed the bill as insufficient, even though, as The Post noted,  it also “includes an amendment that allows parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without putting school districts at risk of federal sanctions.”

Over in the Senate, the companion bill passed through committee unanimously. Wednesday, Democrats beat back a measure that would have added in support for school vouchers, but according to GOP staff the bill is on track to pass next week.

So why is the No Child Left Behind legislation so important? A vocal segment of the GOP base is and has been up in arms about Common Core, insisting it is a plot by the feds to nationalize education. It’s been a stick with which to beat Bush, who correctly argues Common Core was a state initiative and leaves curriculum to the states. Bush’s opponents, even those who once supported it like Govs. Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie, have twisted themselves into knots to renounce Common Core. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has made a less-than convincing argument against it. But if the law is clarified, to say precisely what Jeb Bush has supported — state-based standards without federal coercion — a wedge issue within the GOP disappears. Removing a bugaboo for the right and refocusing the states on actual school reform should get the GOP out of an internal battle and give a lift to school reformers. But it also is a lift for Jeb Bush, which might be why the right-wing groups are trying to think up reasons to oppose it.