The last word on NCLB, we hope

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The conservative grassroots recovered Friday from an establishment-landed punch to potentially knock out a mealy-mouthed bill replacing No Child Left Behind.

Last Wednesday, the House Rules Committee approved some 50 moderate Republican and Democrat amendments to receive up-or-down votes on the House floor along with the Student Success Act, a bill to replace NCLB. Crucially, the committee refused to let three conservative Republican amendments also face an up-or-down vote. Those three would have allowed states to drop national testing mandates, dropped nearly all federal mandates while receiving their education dollars as block grants, and allowed federal funds for poor kids to follow them to private choice schools if states chose. In other words, they would have moved the Student Success Act from namby-pamby nothing to limiting federal micromanagement of education.

That plus a surge of grassroots pressure peeled enough Republican votes away to embarrass congressional leaders, who had to pull the vote Friday. Politico says the failure means it’s likely Congress will never send President Barack Obama an NCLB rewrite.

“At this point it’s just not clear to me how one negotiates a bill that the White House has any interest in signing and that you can get 218 votes in the House for,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess told Politico. “There’s no chance that the leadership is going to pass a federal education bill with Democratic votes and write off the pushback from conservatives.”

The fat lady hasn’t sung yet, though. Senate HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander says he plans to introduce a new, even more Democrat-friendly, NCLB rewrite this week. Given how things have played out in the House, it’s doubtful a further-Left bill will get a better reception. But since citizen lobbying played a key role in tanking the earlier bill, it’s likely lawmakers will need similar pressure again to fully nail the lid on this coffin.