No Child Left Behind (NCLB) represented an unfortunate overstep of the federal government’s role in education, said two Republicans on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce to attendees at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) annual conference Monday. They said that Congress must pass legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that shifts control back to state and local governments.

“I think we did really overstep” with NCLB and the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) system, U.S. Rep. Judy Biggart (R-Ill.) said at a luncheon during NSBA’s federal relations network conference at the Washington Hilton. “I have local control emblazoned on my forehead. That’s where it belongs.”

Biggart touted a series of bills reauthorizing ESEA that have been introduced in the House’s education and workforce committee. The various bills would: eliminate the AYP system and allow states to establish their own accountability metrics; target the teaching profession with a variety of reforms; and streamline federal funding programs into more flexible grants intended to promote innovation.

As 2012 is an important election year, Biggart acknowledged that it could be politically difficult to move the legislation through a bitterly divided Congress. But she argued that there was enough bipartisan consensus on the need to reauthorize ESEA for such action to be taken. “We just can’t wait on this,” Biggart said.

Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) echoed many of Biggart’s comments, advocating for actions on the bills that have passed the committee and a general transition to more state and local control. He also pushed for a greater focus on career and technical training. A “skills gap” exists, he said, because there is a lack of trained employees coming into those more specialized technical occupations.

“America’s number one asset is a qualified and trained workforce. Education is the key,” Thompson said. “We need people with those skill sets.”

Biggart and Thompson, both former school board members, urged attendees (who represent school boards nationwide) to communicate with their congressional representatives and push them to take action. “The experts on education are not to be found in Washington,” Thompson said.

Feb. 7, the third day of the NSBA conference, has been set aside for attendees to meet with members of Congress.