The Senate on Thursday voted to end an Obama effort to identify and help struggling schools and students, as President Donald Trump and Republicans work to undo some of his predecessor's key policies.
Senators voted 50-49 to rescind accountability rules issued in November to help states implement the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, a law that addresses school ratings, student report cards and other ways to spot and help troubled schools. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.
Republicans argued that the regulations were an example of federal overreach and that details of things like report cards should be left to states and local communities. Democrats defended the rules, saying they provide important safeguards for vulnerable groups of students, such as children with special needs and minorities.
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Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the regulations violate the main idea of ESSA, which he said was meant to empower states on education matters. The law replaced the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind law.
"People had grown fed up with Washington telling teachers and schools, and superintendents and states, so much about what to do about our children in 100.000 public schools," Alexander, who sponsored the measure, said on the Senate floor before the vote.
"This resolution restores flexibility, this resolution preserves local decision-making, this resolution scuttles new and burdensome reporting requirements. This resolution ensures strong accountability for our schools, but it is state accountability," said Alexander, who served as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush.
Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, the top Democrat on the committee, had urged lawmakers to keep the regulations in place, saying they protect students' civil rights.
"We know that without strong accountability, kids from low-income neighborhoods, students of color, kids with disabilities and students learning English too often fall through the cracks," Murray said. "And now it's up to all of us to uphold the civil rights legacy of the law and its promise for students."
On Wednesday, the Senate voted to rescind another Obama education rule governing teacher training and evaluation. Senators were using an expedited process established through the Congressional Review Act, which lets Congress invalidate certain regulations with a simple majority vote in both chambers.
Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust-New York, said that with the regulations rescinded, it will be up to states to find ways to enforce protections for vulnerable students.
"The law is the law, and states are required to enact accountability systems that shine a light on where schools are succeeding and where they are not —including for low-income students, students of color, English learners and students with disabilities," Rosenblum said in a statement.