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Obama administration: Education bills lack accountability

FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2015 file photo, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Tennessee Republican has been playing music, and politics, his whole life, blending the two last month as he practiced an upcoming performance on a borrowed piano in his Senate office. But this week, Alexander's stage is the Senate floor, where he'll do his day job as the top Republican on education issues by managing a bipartisan bill to update the No Child Left Behind Act with a policy giving states more power over their own public schools. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration said Monday it cannot support either the Senate or the House versions of bills being considered this week to update the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law.

Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, says neither bill has sufficient accountability to ensure that all children get the resources they need to succeed. She, however, stopped short of saying President Barack Obama would veto the bipartisan Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

In a phone call with Munoz, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and reporters, Duncan called the House bill a major step backward. The White House has previously threatened a veto on that legislation.

Emphasizing the need for congressional action on No Child Left Behind, Munoz and Duncan highlighted what they said were large achievement gaps between students at struggling schools and those at better performing elementary and middle schools. They released a White House report that said between students in the nation’s lowest-performing 5-percent of schools and their peers in all other schools, there was a 31 percentage point gap in reaching grade-level proficiency in reading, and a 36-percentage point gap in math.

In the Senate bill, Munoz said: “There is a lot in this bipartisan bill that gives us a lot of hope.” But, she said, she wants to see specific language in the Senate and House bills that would not only require that the lowest-performing 5-percent of schools in each state be identified, but that states and schools be compelled to have a plan to do something about it.

The Alexander-Murray bill would retain reading and math tests outlined in No Child Left Behind — but in a significant move, it shifts to the states decisions about how to use those tests to measure school performance. The House bill, sponsored by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., also transfers more power to the states on accountability but has a school choice provision that would allow states to let federal funding follow a child to whichever school they end up attending, including private schools — something Democrats don’t support.

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on the Alexander-Murray bill on Tuesday. The full House is expected to take up the Kline measure on Wednesday.

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