Since No Child Left Behind expired in 2007, Congress has tried three times to replace the Elementary and Secondary Education Act but—in its ineffectual Congress-y way—has never come close to crafting an actual bill. That changed Wednesday, when the Senate passed a new version of ESEA, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, by an unheard-of-these-days margin of 85–12. The House vote on the bill last week was equally bipartisan, passing 359 to 64.
The 1,059-page bill limits the role of the federal government in state and district education decisions while keeping the No Child Left Behind–mandated annual math and reading assessments for students in grades 3 through 8 in place. The difference is that the new bill gives states and districts more autonomy in deciding how to use those scores to evaluate teachers and turn around low-performing schools.
“It moves decisions about whether schools and teachers and students are succeeding or failing out of Washington, D.C., and back to states and communities and classroom teachers, where those decisions belong,” said Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor, and Pensions and a former education secretary, on Tuesday.
Alexander, a Republican, worked with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to craft a compromise bill that could bridge the partisan divide between Republicans, who want these education decisions made locally, and Democrats, who want to preserve the accountability requirements seen as protecting poor and minority groups mandated by No Child Left Behind.
While by no means everyone is happy with the bill, the White House signaled that President Barack Obama will sign it Thursday.