The Obama Administration is doing yet another end-run around Congress, this time granting states conditional waivers from the onerous provisions of NCLB in exchange for adopting a yet-to-be-specified set of executive branch education policy priorities. Today, the Department of Education announced that it will be issuing waivers to insulate states from incurring sanctions under NCLB:
With the new school year fast approaching and still no bill to reform the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration will provide a process for states to seek relief from key provisions of the law, provided that they are willing to embrace education reform.
The Obama Administration was unsuccessful in its call earlier this year for a rush reauthorization of the 600-plus page law that would have expanded federal funding and leverage over local schools. Now they’re turning to “executive authority” to advance their policy priorities in local schools.
This quick fix method might seem attractive to address the unintended consequences from the last federal overreach—i.e., NCLB’s blunt attempt to drive accountability from Washington that has resulted in many schools being labeled failing while doing little to improve results. But the waiver route is a bad precedent that neither provides long-term relief for states nor solves the underlying problem with accountability, which would be more effective if directed to parents, not bureaucrats.
Circumventing Congress by granting states conditions-based waivers will exacerbate Washington’s decades-long history of failure at improving educational outcomes. In fact, the Administration’s NCLB “blueprint” is NCLB on steroids—ballooning the federal role in education by calling for resource equity among schools and national standards and tests.
Moreover, the proposed waivers will only be granted to states on a conditional basis to those states that agree to implement the Department of Education’s chosen “reforms.” The Administration’s conditions to qualify for a waiver will likely include the adoption of national standards and tests in the form of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. National standards would be an unprecedented federal overreach, and granting NCLB waivers on the condition that states adopt the standards would relinquish state educational sovereignty to an unaccountable Department of Education.
While the Obama Administration cites “congressional inaction” as the reason for issuing NCLB waivers, there have actually been major congressional proposals introduced to chart a better course forward.
As House Education and the Workforce Committee chairman John Kline (R–MN) told Politico, his committee has already completed significant work this year toward moving forward from the broken status quo, including two major proposals to restore state control over education and put power in the hands of those closer to the student. The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act (H.R. 2445) would allow states to have flexibility over how they use federal funds under NCLB. The Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act (H.R. 1891) would eliminate 42 out of 80 ineffective and duplicative programs under NCLB, creating a more appropriate federal role in education.
Moreover, Representative Rob Bishop (R–UT) has also introduced the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act, which would allow states to completely opt out of NCLB.
Conservatives have put forth serious legislative proposals to restore state and local control over education and to begin reducing the federal role in education. The conditions-based waivers being offered by the Obama Administration do not solve the problems created by NCLB and only further extend Washington’s tentacles into local schools.
States need genuine relief from the federal red tape handed down from Washington. But granting conditional waivers is not a long-term solution. The simple truth is that the federal government has been an abject failure at improving American educational outcomes. To improve outcomes and relieve states from the bureaucratic nightmare that is NCLB, federal policymakers should allow states to completely opt out of NCLB through proposals that are approved by Congress.
The Constitution designated Congress as the governmental body empowered with law-making: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress,” says Article I, Section 1. The Obama Administration does damage to that constitutional provision by circumventing the normal law-making process of Congress to push the policy preferences of his Administration on local schools.