May 23, 2001

House Deals with H.R. 1 Amendments—Should Complete Work Today

Washington, DC—The House on Tuesday ratified President Bush’s plan for annual math and reading tests for millions of elementary and junior high schoolers. These tests are the cornerstone of the new administration’s legislation to improve student performance in classrooms across the country.

Provisions to protect home school freedom remain intact in the legislation.

Twenty-eight amendments to the education bill were made “in-order” last week and the House began voting on each amendment Tuesday. HSLDA took a “no position” stance on almost all 28 amendments, since the bill deals with public schools. “We did notify members of the House that we supported several amendments that increased local control of spending and flexibility,” said Doug Domenech of the National Center for Home Education. “HSLDA also backed an amendment by home schooling dad, Congressman Todd Akin, that required that tests be based on objective knowledge and not personal opinions.”

By a vote of 255-173, the House turned back an attempt to strip the testing provision from the overall education bill. It represented a solid victory for the president and a bipartisan coalition on the first of several key challenges to the measure that Bush has declared his top domestic priority.

“The core of this bill is to require real accountability from every school district in the country that gets federal dollars,” said Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), chairman of the education committee. To critics of testing, he said: “It’s time to take our heads out of the sand and quit ignoring incompetence and quit ignoring that some of our kids, too many of them, are not learning.”

But Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), who led the effort to delete the testing provision, countered that “superintendents back home like controlling their schools. They’re not looking for another mandate.” He said the role of the federal government “ought to be to audit the results” of tests, not require them.

Indeed, a few minutes after rejecting the amendment to strip testing, the House narrowly approved another measure that would give two school districts in every state virtually unlimited discretion to spend federal funds as they wish. The amendment, offered by Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-OH) and Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE), was approved 217-209.

The House hopes to complete work today on the education legislation, which provides new resources to states and local school districts and loosens federal rules in exchange for greater accountability.

Many conservatives are not satisfied with the current education bill. “We’ve not been very effective throughout this process,” said Rep. Hoekstra. “This is no way a conservative bill, or a Republican bill from a House perspective.”

Behind the scenes, President Bush deflected another conservative initiative that might jeopardize the bill’s passage on the bill. In a private meeting with two dozen House Republicans at the White House Monday, Bush persuaded them not to push a pilot program, called the “Straight A’s” proposal, that would allow several states and school districts to spend federal education funds as they choose.

Democrats threatened to oppose the final bill if the “Straight A’s” amendment was adopted because they say it could divert money from disadvantaged students.

Rep. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who had planned to offer the Straight A’s amendment today, said in an interview that he decided to withdraw it after Bush persuaded him the GOP stood a better chance of restoring the pilot program in negotiations with the Senate, which has endorsed it. “He is very committed to making sure it’s in the final bill,” said DeMint, who met privately with Bush and Vice President Cheney. “He is persuasive.”

Afterward, Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) said Bush promised conservatives he would support separate bills to address their wishes. Barr added, “My impression is the president is eager to sign a bill and again, this bill won’t have everything that we as conservatives want in it. I don’t think it has everything in it that the president would like to see in it. But most, if not all, of us in that room agreed that we need to get something through.”

 Other Resources

H.R. 1—No Child Left Behind Act of 2001