WASHINGTON – The top two lawmakers on the Senate Education Committee said Friday they are putting off consideration of a new No Child Left Behind law until next year.
Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., have decided that there's not enough time this year to complete work on the legislation, which has not yet been formally introduced.
The five-year-old law, up for a scheduled rewrite, requires math and reading tests in grades three through eight, and once in high school. Schools that miss testing benchmarks face increasingly stiff sanctions. The law, originally passed in 2001, is among President Bush's top domestic policy priorities.
Kennedy, the panel's chairman, had previously said he wanted a bill before the Senate this year. He now is aiming, however, to bring a bill up for consideration early next year, said his spokeswoman, Melissa Wagoner.
"We have additional work to do on key issues, but are confident that we can put forth a responsible package for consideration early in the new year that will enjoy strong support of the Senate," Wagoner said.
However, it may be even more difficult to pass a rewritten No Child bill next year because it is a presidential election year. It is harder to get the bipartisan consensus needed to pass major legislation against the backdrop of an intense presidential campaign.
"No Child Left Behind is important to our children's future. We will not and cannot rush it," Enzi said in a statement. "Sen. Kennedy and I have agreed that our goal must be to produce solid legislation — not to meet an arbitrary deadline."
House lawmakers have not decided whether to keep trying to bring a bill to the floor in what little time is left in this calendar year. They, too, say time is running out.
"It is growing less likely that we will get a bill off the House floor in 2007," said Tom Kiley, a spokesman for Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House education committee. "We continue to work hard on the bill. Discussions with Republicans and education organizations continue."
Lawmakers in both parties — along with the Bush administration — are pushing for important revisions to the law. If the law isn't revised by Congress, the existing law stands.
There is broad agreement that the law should be changed to encourage schools to measure individual student progress over time instead of using snapshot comparisons of certain grade levels.
There is consensus, as well, that the law should be changed so that schools that miss progress goals by a little don't face the same consequences as schools that miss them by a lot.
Deep divisions remain over some proposed changes, including merit pay for teachers and whether schools should be judged based on test scores in subjects other than reading and math.