In the weeks since the embarrassment of having his plan for eviscerating the No Child Left Behind Act yanked from a full house vote, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline has spent plenty of time trying to revive it. As you would expect, conservative reformers such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham are doing their part by proclaiming that Kline’s plan, the Student Success Act, would put an end to “big government conservatism” and help erase what many movement conservatives consider to be the excesses of George W. Bush’s presidency.
Yet as Dropout Nation has noted since November, the odds of Kline’s plan — or any No Child reauthorization — being passed this year or in the next is slim to none. Especially in the case Kline’s plan, also known as House Resolution 5, the perceptions of the proposal among true-believer and new-styled movement conservatives (as well as among Republican and Democrat colleagues in the Senate) are already set. Better for Kline (and Senate counterpart Lamar Alexander) to just their efforts die and move on.
Unsurprisingly, some reporters and conservative reformers who were shocked by the rejection of H.R. 5 have tried to find some sort of culprit for what happened. This has included pointing to an opinion piece against the standards on an anti-Common Core Web site that wrongly proclaimed that the No Child reauthorization plan would place restrictions upon families homeschooling their children.
But this interpretation of events by those reporters and pundits (who are still smarting from failing to pay attention to the congressional Republican politics at play) ignores the reality that the ire among movement conservatives against Kline’s proposal had been stoked long before that piece came out. This included a manifesto issued weeks before that piece by a group of otherwise-sensible conservative reformers led by Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas and Hoover Institution scholar Williamson Evers which called for No Child’s annual testing requirements to be scrapped from it. Two years earlier, movement conservative true-believers and their allies in the House Republican caucus nearly succeeded in derailing full House passage of an earlier version of the Student Success Act; Kline managed to gain enough votes for passage by working his colleagues the weekend before the final voted.
Licking his proverbial wounds, aware that he will no longer serve on Education and the Workforce after 2016 thanks to term limits on committee chairmanships, and looking to secure some sort of legacy as the chief education policy guy for House Republicans, Kline is doing all he can to win over his peers. This includes getting conservative reformers to write in favor of H.R. 5, as well as issuing releases from the committee geared at setting the record straight. The problem with this? It is later than he thinks. Way too late.
Thanks to the battles over implementing Common Core and the view stoked by Kline and some conservative reformers that federal support for implementation is federal overreach (along with the ire Kline’s staff on Education and the Workforce have stoked over all aspects of federal education policy), true-believers among movement conservatives, already angry at the excesses real and imagined of the Bush presidency, are even less-interested in a No Child reauthorization.
Kline’s proxies can’t help him much because they have no credibility with the hardest of the hardcore in the conservative movement. After all, many of them, especially Petrilli, have touted Common Core’s reading and math standards, that other bete noire among hardcore movement conservatives. Certainly this wouldn’t have been much of a problem if Petrilli and others did as your editor suggested and challenged opposition to Common Core among their fellow-travelers earlier and more vigorously. It would also help their cause if they engaged in some logical consistency on the federal role in education; to many hardcore movement conservatives uninvolved in education, they seem to be talking out of both sides of their proverbial mouths.
[By the way: The accusations of apostasy from movement conservatives against Fordham is one reason why Petrilli is steering a course that includes arguing that some children don’t need higher education (even as the think tank continues to support Common Core implementation) and perspectives on issues such as how to stem single-parent households that have revealed the myopia on racial issues among himself and others in the school reform movement.]
Given that activists among movement conservatives (and their allies in Congress) are far more likely to take their cue on H.R. 5 from the Heritage Foundation than from Fordham (or even the American Enterprise Institute, which has always been viewed by as an organization touting conservatism light), it is unlikely that anything Petrilli or his brethren argue will convince them to support it. This means that Heritage’s Lindsey Burke, who signed the Greene-Evers manifesto, has more influence among movement conservatives than either Petrilli or Hess.
None of this is promising for Kline; Burke has already made clear that movement conservatives should either demand Kline to come up with a No Child reauthorization more to their liking or oppose his apostasy. You can also expect that Heritage Action, the already-political think tank’s even more political activism unit, won’t back off from opposing H.R. 5 as currently written. Same for the Club for Growth, another key player in halting passage of Kline’s plan.
With so little movement conservative support for it, Kline’s plan has as much chance of passing as an immigration reform plan, which means no chance at all. But this isn’t just a problem for Kline. Because House Republicans have to approve any No Child reauthorization passed out of the Senate, it also means that Alexander’s own proposal won’t get any support from House Republicans, either.
Not that the Tennessee Republican’s chance of passing No Child out of the Senate would be easy in the first place. Certainly Alexander and Ranking House Education Labor and Pensions Committee Democrat Patty Murray are trying to negotiate a bipartisan plan. But there are still numerous, substantial disagreements over accountability and other issues. Just as importantly, President Obama is unlikely to sign any plan that eviscerates his own legacy on education policy, and on that front, Alexander’s plan is no different than that of Kline.
This isn’t to say that the impossible cannot happen. But it’s not bloody likely. Kline and his supporters can try to resurrect H.R. 5 all they want. It still won’t mean it isn’t a dead bill. After all, unlike Jesus, the proposal’s father isn’t either omnipotent, omniscient, or jireh.