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Republicans Set to Try Again With Education Overhaul

Kline wants to overhaul K-12 education laws. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In late February, House conservatives were revolting on two different fronts: They didn't want to fund the Department of Homeland Security without language blocking President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration, and they didn't want to replace the No Child Left Behind education law without provisions giving more autonomy to states.  

At that time, GOP leaders opted to focus their energies on preventing a DHS shutdown instead of navigating a sticky whip operation on a non-time sensitive education bill, and so, mid-floor debate, they hit the "pause" button. This week, the bill comes back to the floor in a return leadership hopes will be triumphant.  

A spokeswoman for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce told CQ Roll Call that Chairman John Kline, R-Minn, committee Republicans and GOP leaders have been engaging in discussions with members in the intervening months to build more support, explaining what the bill does and doesn't do and clearing up any misconceptions. That the House is scheduled to resume consideration of the bill this week would signal there's been significant progress on this front.  

But there are still kinks left to be resolved in advance of final passage, which will depend almost entirely on Republican votes — nearly all House Democrats are opposing due to certain funding cuts and various provisions they say will hurt chances for children in low-income communities to receive to quality education. The White House also has an outstanding veto threat against it.  

A sign Republican leaders recognize the vote shortfall and are now prepared to make concessions to appease hardliners is that they're sending the bill back to the Rules Committee, where panel members are expected to make in order for debate at least one additional amendment to sweeten the pot.  

Specifically, conservative House Republicans, cheered on by Heritage Action for America, are lobbying for a chance to vote on a provision called Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success, or A-PLUS, which would allow states to opt out of federally-mandated education programs while still receiving federal funding. An amendment to insert this language into the underlying bill was proposed in February by Republican Reps. Mark Walker of North Carolina and Ron DeSantis of Florida, but it was not accepted to receive an up-or-down vote on the floor.  

Republican opponents of the House education overhaul bill in its current form argue it doesn't sufficiently stop the federal government from imposing a "one size fits all" standard to schools where local communities ostensibly know best how to allocate resources.  

Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler said adoption of the A-PLUS amendment would go a long way in helping the bill deliver on its pledge to give more flexibility to states.  

"What [Republican leaders] claim the bill does, A-PLUS actually does," Holler told CQ Roll Call.  

Holler reiterated Heritage Action would continue to urge opposition to the bill if the amendment isn't adopted, but would hail its inclusion as "a victory for conservatives, parents and kids."  

The Rules Committee won't meet to discuss the path forward until Tuesday evening, and there's been no guarantee it will make Walker and DeSantis' amendment in order this time around.  

However, if something like the A-PLUS provision wasn't necessary to win GOP votes, leadership might have just opted to bring the bill back to the floor under the existing rule.  

Several dozen amendments were made in order for consideration when the measure was first put before the House in February; by the time the bill was pulled, there were just a few outstanding amendment votes left to take, in addition to the vote on final passage. July is a busy time with various deadlines to meet before the August recess — extending the Highway Trust Fund chief among them — and leaders might have been inclined to follow the most expeditious route possible if there had been that option.  

The timing of the House resuming consideration of its No Child Left Behind rewrite is coinciding with the Senate starting to debate its own version, a decidedly more bipartisan compromise spearheaded by the chairman and ranking member of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at his daily briefing Monday the administration hasn't taken a formal position yet but was "intrigued" by the senator's blueprint, which is more than could be said for the House bill at any moment in time.  

In addition to everything else, there is some fearfulness among Republicans that proceeding with an education overhaul bill would result in a bicameral conference committee where the end result would be closer to the Senate's language, which by virtue of its bipartisan nature is inherently less conservative.  

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., a longtime high school teacher prior to his congressional career, told CQ Roll Call Monday if it were up to him, the House would just vote on the Alexander-Murray proposal as-is.  

"I would just say to Republicans, 'I can't believe you all want to stay with what you got,'" Takano said of being resigned to the existing No Child Left Behind law. "It would be a shame if we didn't have an opportunity this session to come to a compromise."  

Sarah Chacko and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report. Related: