Education makes political comeback in Washington

AP News
Posted: Oct 19, 2011 6:06 PM
Education makes political comeback in Washington

A rare show of bipartisanship in a divided Congress produced a deal to fix an education law long considered flawed, until a single senator stalled progress Wednesday.

The delay would be short and would not deter the committee working on one of the most significant overhauls of the No Child Left Behind law since it was passed in 2002, the chairman said.

A little more than an hour into the hearing by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., used a procedural maneuver to put the brakes on the discussion.

The renewed focus in Washington on education comes as the 2012 campaign begins to unfold.

President Barack Obama has chided Congress for not acting to revise the law and has told states they can seek waivers from some unpopular requirements. He also has made saving teachers' jobs an essential part of his $447 billion jobs plan.

The Senate committee chairman, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, and the top Republican, Wyoming's Mike Enzi, announced a bipartisan bill on Monday that seeks to give more control over education to states and local districts.

At the hearing, Harkin and Enzi said they were unhappy with parts of the measure, but pleased they could achieve a consensus on the issue.

Paul complained that he wasn't given enough time to review the more than 800-page bill and said there haven't been hearings on the bill this year.

He said the federal government would retain too much control over education and that students still would be tested every year.

Paul used a procedural maneuver to put a halt on the hearing, citing a rule that says a committee cannot meet when the Senate is in session. That rule typically is waived.

"I think it's a mistake to continue No Child Left Behind in any form or fashion," Paul told the committee.

Harkin said the committee had hearings last year on the issue, and that Paul's move would not deter the committee's work. The committee is scheduled to resume debating the bill Thursday morning. Harkin said that the committee will debate the more than 70 amendments Paul has indicated he will file.

A coalition of 20 civil rights, disability rights and business groups, including the NAACP and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, expressed criticism of the overhaul.

They said "states would not have to set any measurable achievement and progress targets or even graduation rate goals" and huge numbers of low-achieving kids would slip through the cracks.

Earlier, the administration said it wasn't pleased that the bill left out a requirement on teacher and principal evaluations.

Obama said last month that he was so frustrated that Congress hadn't fixed No Child Left Behind that he was allowing states that met certain conditions to get around some parts of the law. At least 39 states, in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have told the Education Department they intend to seek a waiver.

A GOP-led House committee has forwarded three bills that would revise the law. But some of the more contentious issues, such as teacher accountability and effectiveness, have not yet been addressed.

Obama has made saving teachers' jobs an essential part of his effort to sell his $447 billion jobs plan. But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has compared Obama's jobs plan to "bailouts" that perpetuate economic problems, not solve them.

The White House has said that nearly 300,000 jobs in the education sector have disappeared since 2008 and that Obama's plan would support the hiring or re-hiring of 400,000 educators.

When the president's jobs plan was brought up in the Senate last week, not a single Republican senator supported it and it died.

Democrats said they would bring up parts of it separately, starting with the effort to save the jobs of teachers and first responders. The chances of passing the component on saving jobs for teachers and first responders appear dim.


Kimberly Hefling can be followed at