WASHINGTON — Despite earlier optimism, the campaign to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind education law has stalled.
Not only has it not passed, no formal legislation has been introduced, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has been working with President Bush on the issue, says it will not happen this year.
"It's going to tip over to next year," he said -- right into the teeth of a presidential campaign with candidates on both sides denouncing the program.
This was supposed to be the one area where the embattled White House and the assertive new Democratic Congress would find common ground, thanks to the unlikely partnership between a Texas conservative and a Massachusetts liberal.
But like the rest of Bush's legislative agenda, No Child Left Behind has fallen victim to political deadlock. Bush is fending off foes from the left and right. Teachers unions stand alongside hard-line conservatives against the program, and civil rights groups team up with business organizations in support of it.
The threat to the education accountability program comes as test scores hint at progress, with the gap between white children and minorities narrowing. "There's no reason to turn back the clock," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said. "We're on the move. This is working."
If it is not reauthorized, the original law will remain on the books unchanged, though even supporters, including Bush, think it needs to be updated to fix problems and establish "deeper roots," as Spellings put it. Moreover, it would represent another defeat for Bush after the death of his plans to overhaul Social Security, immigration and the tax code.
"It matters a lot to him," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who talked about it with Bush aboard Air Force One last week.
Boehner and other original authors of the law have grown pessimistic about their chances. "It's slim to none that it gets reauthorized," said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).