The nation's leading civil rights groups slammed the Senate Thursday for dropping provisions requiring accountability from schools and teachers from a bill that would reauthorize the main federal education spending bill.

The groups said the removal of the provisions ensuring a strong federal oversight role would undermine the gains minority students had made under the existing version of the law, known as "No Child Left Behind."

The Senate voted 81-17 on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Thursday. The new version is titled the Every Child Achieves Act. The civil rights groups expressed hope that the accountability provisions could be put back in during a latter House-Senate conference on the bill.

The Every Child Achieves Act gives the oversight role primarily to the states. Leaders from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund told reporters in conference call that was unacceptable. The federal government must have the final say.

"The principle of accountability is not negotiable to us. This was the raison d'etre of the original act. Educational systems must be held responsible for narrowing and eliminating gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color," said Leslie Proll, director of the Washington office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel for Mexican fund, said he would rather continue using the "admittedly very troubling conditions of No Child Left Behind ... rather than have a bill that goes to the president and is signed that would go backwards on the important civil rights aims of ESEA."

No Child Left Behind has been controversial for requiring regular testing to monitor student progress and highlight schools and teachers who are performing poorly. Teachers unions hate the measure and have pushed lawmakers hard to remove the provisions. The 3 million-member National Education Association urged its members Thursday to contact their senators and tell them to vote for the Every Child Achieves Act.

"The widespread consensus in Washington is that the current education law is broken. The Senate bill being considered Thursday is a major improvement over current law," the union said in a message to its members.

The unions and the civil rights groups, usually allies, have clashed over the reauthorization. In February, Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, appeared at a forum with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, to debate education reform.

Henderson scolded critics of No Child Left Behind such as Weingarten, saying the law, while it had its flaws, had been made a scapegoat for educational problems that were instead caused by institutional racism. "I am not prepared to turn my back on a [federal] system that has shown some improvement," he said.

Conservative groups have opposed having a strong federal oversight role as well, arguing local governments should be in charge of education policy. The Club for Growth urged conservatives Thursday to tell their senator to oppose the reauthorization bill, saying it doesn't do enough to reduce the federal role.

The Every Child Achieves Act is co-sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash. On Wednesday, the Senate voted down amendments that would have restored the accountability provisions.