On August 8, the Obama Administration announced it would begin granting waivers to states to allow them to opt out of the requirements of No Child Left Behind. But there’s a catch: If a state desires to obtain a waiver, it must also agree to sign on to requirements the Obama Administration sets forth.
In response, last Friday Chairman John Kline (R–MN) of the House Education and the Workforce Committee stated:
…the Obama Administration seems determined to override Congressional efforts to reform the law and enact a backdoor education agenda. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan continues to push forward an ill-conceived plan to offer states and school districts waivers in exchange for reforms rooted not in the law but in the secretary’s own education agenda.
While the White House has the authority to grant waivers, the President does not have the power to sidestep legislative powers and lure states to accept his education agenda. As Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution asserted:
It is one thing for an administration to grant waivers to states.… It is quite another thing to grant state waivers conditional on compliance with a particular reform agenda that is dramatically different from existing law.
And exactly what states will be required to adopt in exchange for a waiver remains unclear. As the House Education Committee noted in its press release: “Despite…efforts to gain more details about what these conditional waivers may entail, the Secretary refuses to provide any information about the administration’s controversial proposal.”
While Obama is pushing his education agenda on states, he is doing so under the guise of flexibility. Yet, temporary relief bound by the strings of greater federal regulation is anything but flexible.
For nearly five decades, Washington has attempted to improve schools with top-down policies. Rather than helping students achieve, this has only extended federal overreach. Pulling states more tightly into the grip of central government will do nothing to loosen the red tape ensnaring the nation’s education system.
States need education reform that offers true flexibility—allowing states to meet the needs of students rather than toe the line set by Washington.
Promisingly, over the last few months, Representative Kline (R–MN) and Representative Duncan Hunter (R–CA) have introduced a series of reforms that aim to free states from the accumulating years of federal regulation and allow them to use their education dollars as they deem best instead of as the federal government demands.
Reforms that move Washington out of the way give states the freedom to fulfill their responsibilities to students, families, and communities in providing children a quality education. The nation needs a wave of real reform—not waivers that only pose as such.