WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is finally close to a vote to rewrite the outdated and highly criticized No Child Left Behind education law.
The compromise legislation, approved Thursday by House and Senate negotiators, would sharply reduce the federal role in education policy but still require students to be tested in reading and math in grades three to eight, and once in high school.
The conference committee action paves the way for a vote in the House during the first week of December, and days later in the Senate.
The legislation embraces state-driven protections to ensure that all students, no matter their race or background, have access to a quality education.
But it would return to the states the power to determine whether and how to use the required tests to assess the performance of schools, teachers and students.
States would be able to decide whether or how to use student test performance to assess teachers and students, ending federal efforts to tie the scores to teacher evaluations, something teachers' unions have railed against.
Under the bill, the Education Department may not mandate or give states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, such as the college and career-ready curriculum guidelines known as Common Core.
But important to Democrats, the conference committee bill includes accountability measures that would require states to intervene in the nation's lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, high school dropout factories and schools with persistent achievement gaps. But the federally prescribed school improvement plans loathed by Republicans would be ended.
The bill does not include so-called portability, which would have allowed federal money to follow low-income children to public schools of their choice instead of current law, which has those dollars remain at the struggling schools. Republicans wanted the money to follow the student, and it was included in the version of the education bill that narrowly passed the House in July.
Instead, the compromise bill would allow for a small pilot program that would let federal money move with students in some school districts.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who chaired the conference committee, said the compromise legislation will "replace a failed approach to education with a new approach that will reduce the federal role, restore local control, and empower parents."
Kline's Democratic counterpart on the committee, Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, praised the bill's accountability safeguards. "This agreement ensures that when achievement gaps are found, meaningful action will be taken to intervene and support the needs of students," he said.
Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who sponsored the original bill in the Senate with Democrat Patty Murray of Washington, said he expected lawmakers to vote next month and send President Barack Obama a bill to sign before the end of the year.
Congress has tried for years to update the Bush-era law.
It expired in 2007, though its mandates remained in place. Critics have complained there is too much testing and the law is too punitive for schools deemed to be failing. In 2012, the Obama administration began issuing waivers to dozens of states to get around some of the law's strictest requirements when it became clear they would not be met.