By Heritage Foundation
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Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind: The Student Success Act (H.R. 5)
Status: On February 11th, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) to reauthorize and reform the No Child Left Behind Act through 2021. A number of misleading claims are being made in the service of passing this bill. Below is a summary of these claims and detailed responses. Heritage Action is opposed to H.R. 5.
CLAIM: H.R. 5 replaces the current national accountability system with state-led accountability systems, freeing the states from federal interference.
FACT: Although the proposal wisely eliminates counterproductive and prescriptive Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) mandates, H.R. 5 maintains the current NCLB mandates for states to establish standards in reading and math and to test kids annually between grades 3-8 and once in high school.
H.R. 5 orders that academic achievement standards “include the same knowledge, skills, and levels of achievement expected of all public school students in the state.” States must also use “the same academic assessments…to measure the academic achievement of all public school students in the state.” Taken together, these twin mandates direct the state to establish a single uniform assessment, limiting the ability of local schools to determine their own curriculum. Experts agree a well-rounded education is in the best interests of the child and that NCLB has damaged the ability of local school districts to set locally-driven curriculum that reflects the desires of families in their communities. The mandates in H.R. 5 perpetuate this problem.
CLAIM: H.R. 5 eliminates more than 65 existing elementary and secondary education programs.
FACT: H.R. 5 consolidates more than 65 programs into a Local Academic Flexibility Grant, but it does not eliminate them. Mere consolidation does not reduce federal spending. These programs need to be eliminated along with a commensurate reduction in spending. The fact that H.R. 5 does not reduce funding levels as result of these “eliminated” programs is further evidence. NCLB’s authorization levels are maintained and extended until 2021.
CLAIM: H.R. 5 eliminates the NCLB requirement that states make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) to increase the number of students who are proficient in math and reading.
FACT: H.R. 5 does eliminate the AYP requirement, but the bill maintains requirements for states to develop their own “statewide accountability structure, a system of school improvement interventions to be implemented at the local level for…schools the state determines to be poorly performing.”
CLAIM: H.R. 5 allows local school officials to make funding decisions based on what they know will help improve student learning.
FACT: H.R. 5 only tinkers with NCLB’s precisely-mandated spending percentages and prescriptions. The fact that, for instance, a state is allowed to spend 7 percent of its awarded federal funds to carry out its newly-mandated system of school improvement instead of 4 percent under current law does not prove that federal intervention has been dramatically reduced. H.R. 5 contains dozens of precise percentages that govern state and LEA spending priorities. This level of detailed prescription and complexity is not an appreciable reduction in federal involvement.
CLAIM: The federal government is stepping back, “limiting its role to ensuring parents have the information they need to judge the quality of their children’s schools.”
FACT: The suggestion that Congress needs a 616-page bill to reduce the federal education imprint is implausible. Furthermore, despite the length of the bill, H.R. 5 lacks an opt-out of federal programs and mandates for states, an approach known as A-PLUS. A-PLUS wouldlimit the federal role and ensures parents have the information they need.
CLAIM: H.R. 5 empowers parents with more school choice options by allowing Title I funds to follow children to public or charter schools of their parent’s choice.
FACT: H.R. 5 provides increased portability, but only to public schools and public charter schools. Adequate portability would extend to private schools of choice, if a state chose. This was an amendment proposed by Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) in committee before being withdrawn–it is a proposal that deserves inclusion in any NCLB reauthorization.
CLAIM: H.R. 5 protects against Common Core.
FACT: H.R. 5 prevents future federal government coercion of states into adopting Common Core standards. The bill includes language that prevents the Secretary of Education from imposing conditions on the states, including the adoption of Common Core, and prohibits federal funding from being used to “endorse, approve, develop, require, or sanction” Common Core.
Claims that follow have been added in response to the developing debate over H.R. 5.
CLAIM: H.R. 5 allows states to opt out of NCLB
FACT: H.R. 5 only allows states to opt out of federal mandates IF states are willing to forego all federal funding under NCLB. However, states already have the ability under current law to forego federal mandates if they reject federal funding, and none do precisely because it is an “all or nothing” decision. This is why conservatives have pushed for states to receive a true block grant that exempts from federal mandates and allows them to use the funding as they see fit–a proposal known as A-Plus.
CLAIM: H.R. 5’s aggregate authorization level is $23.2 billion, less than the $25 billion authorized for Title I alone under current law.
FACT: While $25 billion was authorized for Title I under the original No Child Left Behind Act, Congress has never appropriated this amount in the history of the law. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Congress appropriated $23 billion for all NCLB activities in 2015. Proponents of H.R. 5 are attempting to take credit for reducing spending that never happened and was unlikely to occur, given previous history. H.R. 5 does not appreciably reduce spending in relation what was actually spent.
CLAIM: H.R. 5 “block grants” money to the states.
FACT: A block grant is money given to states in order to enable states to direct spending and decision-making. While H.R. 5 contains a number of sizeable grants, in particular the new Local Academic Flexible Grant, none are actual block grants. These programs simply add more flexibility within the existing structure, while failing to devolve dollars back to the states. In order to participate in the grant programs of H.R. 5, states must submit detailed documentation, follow prescriptive rules, and comply with onerous reporting requirements.
CLAIM: H.R. 5 is incremental progress towards local control and this is enough to justify a “yes vote.”
FACT: The bill would reauthorize NCLB until 2021, past the first term of the next president. A bill that forecloses the federal K-12 policy debate for that long should be a real conservative alternative, not a bill that even its proponents claim is “incremental.”