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House effort fails to dump testing from education bill

By From Ted Barrett
CNN Capitol Hill producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in the House, joined in a rare alliance, were defeated Wednesday in their effort to dump the testing provisions in President Bush's education bill.

The measure was voted down, 255-173.

Defeat of the amendment, which targeted what the president calls the heart of his education plan, means Bush's bill survived the first of three challenges factions within his own party planned against it. Some GOP members, particularly conservatives, have complained Bush cut too many deals with Democrats to secure bipartisan support for the bill.

Bush wants annual student testing in reading and math as a means to hold schools accountable. Opponents of testing argue the mandate is an unwieldy imposition by the federal government on a matter better left to states and local school boards.

Moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware supports the annual tests. "If we are serious about education reform, we need to know the unvarnished facts about where our children stand against standards and we need to help diagnose problems and design remedies to improve student achievement," he said during the debate.

Conservative Republican John Shadegg of Arizona is a critic. "We already test too much," he said from the floor. "You don't fatten the pig by weighing it. You don't improve education by mandating more tests."

The House is considering reauthorization of the giant Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a 1964 law that dictates education initiatives and spending by the federal government. The Senate is also considering the bill, although its debate has been interrupted by the tax bill.

Later Tuesday, the House is expected to consider another contested amendment, which creates a pilot program to give 100 school districts across the country the freedom to spend federal education dollars as they see fit.

A third measure that would allow parents to use federal money to pay for private education is expected to be considered Wednesday.

House GOP leaders were summoned to the White House Monday afternoon by Bush to discuss the bill.

GOP leaders have attempted to strike a balance between allowing angry conservatives to vote against portions of the bill while crafting compromise language that will win support of enough Democrats to pass the House.

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