WASHINGTON — The House approved a bill last week to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law intended to give states more flexibility in testing student achievement.

WASHINGTON — The House approved a bill last week to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law intended to give states more flexibility in testing student achievement.


"For too long, Washington’s priorities have outweighed what parents, teachers and local leaders know is best for their children," said House Education and Workforce Committee chairman John Kline, R-Minn. "Today, we took an important step in a bold, new direction."


No Child Left Behind, enacted in 2001, was championed by President George W. Bush and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., as a way to make schools more accountable. Kline said the rewrite included reforms that would help every child receive quality education.


A key provision would allow schools to choose alternatives to controversial standards such as Common Core, and would allow parents to "opt out" from having their child tested.


No Democrat supported the bill, and President Barack Obama has threatened a veto. They complained the bill provides no increase in federal funding for schools to improve and that schools could use the "opt out" provision to skew results.


"This is a bad bill," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. "The funding formula takes from the poor and gives to the rich. It eliminates the responsibility to actually do something about the achievement gaps."


The bill was also opposed by a small group of conservative Republicans who wanted to block-grant federal education funding — giving states virtual carte blanche on how it would be spent.


The Senate was working last week on its own education reform bill, which leaders expect to complete in the next week.


The House bill was approved 218-213. Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, French Hill, R-Little Rock, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, voted for it.


Medical research bill approved


The House approved legislation that would increase funding for biomedical research and streamline the approval process for new treatments.


The bill would provide an additional $8.75 billion to the National Institutes of Health and $550 million to the Food and Drug Administration over the next five years. The extension would give longer term support to promising research projects, according to Rep. Diane DeGette, D-Colo.


"With this bill, we are going to make sure that in the 21st century, the pace of breakthroughs, treatments, and cures accelerates to meet the challenges of our time," she said.


Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., a physician, said that the funding is a needed investment that will not only save money but spare families from costs not measured in dollars.


"Is there anyone in the country who doesn’t believe that we will cure diseases like Alzheimer’s or ALS? It is only a matter of time and the investments that we place in it," he said.


Some consumer advocacy groups raised concerns that streamlining the approval process could jeopardize public safety. The White House generally supported the bill but did raise concerns that it would be financed mostly through the sale of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.


The House approved the bill 344-77. Womack and Hill voted for it. Westerman and Crawford opposed it.


Forest bill approved


The House passed a bill that seeks to reduce the threat of forest fire and disease in national forests by speeding up the approval process for timber harvests and underbrush removal.


Westerman, who sponsored the bill, said it would provide "proactive management standards" needed to improve the health of national forests that are suffering from drought, overgrowth and infestation.


The U.S. Forest Service has estimated that up to 40 percent of national forests are in need of treatment to reduce the threat of wildfire and disease, but the regulatory process combined with legal challenges has slowed those efforts.


Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., argued against the bill, saying it "irresponsibly chips away at the environmental safeguards of the National Environmental Policy Act and places tremendous burdens on American citizens seeking to participate in the public review process of Forest Service projects."


The bill was approved 262-167. Womack, Westerman, Hill and Crawford voted for it.