Senate Votes to End Debate on NCLB Rewrite, Rejects Lee’s Amendment Allowing Parent Opt-Outs from Tests

AP/Coeur d'Alene Press, Shawn Gust
AP/Coeur d'Alene Press, Shawn Gust

The Senate voted to end debate on the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) Wednesday, 86-12, allowing for a final vote on Thursday on the measure that is that chamber’s version of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law.

An amendment to the bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee, that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of standardized tests, was rejected by the Senate Tuesday by a vote of 32-64.

Lee’s amendment would have allowed parents to opt their children out of standardized tests in writing, without causing any penalty to the parent, the child, any school leader or employee, or the school itself.

In addition, the amendment would have also allowed states to implement their own opt-out criteria for additional state and/or local assessments.

“Parents, not politicians or bureaucrats, will have the final say over whether individual children take tests,” Lee said, according to the Washington Post, regarding his amendment.

The ECAA was introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate committee that oversees education, who worked closely with ranking committee member and co-sponsor Sen. Patty Murray.

Alexander himself voted to reject Lee’s amendment allowing parents the opt-out right, asserting that the amendment would remove the right of states to decide whether parents should be allowed to opt their children out of tests.

“I say to my Republican friends, do we only agree with local control when we agree with the local policy?” Alexander asked.

Writing at Townhall, Jane Robbins and Heidi Huber observed recently that, despite Alexander’s claim that his legislation would provide more parental and local control of education, it “doesn’t ignore the ‘opt out’ movement – in fact, it adds language that effectively encourages the states to lower the boom on noncompliant students and parents.”

The rejection of the parental opt-out amendment in the Senate establishes a major point of departure from the House’s version of the NCLB reauthorization.

The Student Success Act barely passed the House last week by a vote of 218-213, with 27 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition to the measure. Rep. Matt Salmon introduced an amendment that was adopted by the House, 251-178, one that would allow parents to opt their children out of standardized testing.

While the Senate bill would require 95 percent participation of students in the standardized testing, yet allow states to decide on opt-outs, under the House bill, parents who opt their children out of tests would be removed from the accountability mechanism and the participation rate.

Presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul voted in favor of Lee’s amendment, while Sen. Marco Rubio did not vote on it. Cruz, Paul, and Rubio all voted against ending debate on the bill.

According to Courthouse News Service, Alexander described the debate on the bill as open and fair and repeatedly said his goal was to produce a bill that President Obama would sign into law.

“This is the way the Senate is supposed to work,” he said.

Similarly, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell applauded “another bipartisan achievement for our country and a long overdue win for our kids.”


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