The Obama Administration will announce later today that it is awarding No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers to 10 states: Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. New Mexico is the only state that applied for a waiver and will not receive one, although the state is amending its application in order to get a second shot.
The Administration argues that the NCLB waivers are necessary because Congress has failed to rewrite the flawed law, and states can’t wait any longer for relief from NCLB’s onerous provisions. But the White House’s strings-attached waivers will only grow federal control over education, while weakening the authority of states and local school districts.
The waivers actually fail to provide genuine relief to states, instead handing control of local school policy over to the Department of Education. The conditions-based waivers circumvent Congress and represent a significant new executive overreach.
States do need relief from No Child Left Behind. The 600-plus page law has layered spools of red tape on local school leaders and has failed to prompt improvements in educational outcomes. It has further grown Washington’s involvement in education, continued a maze of federal education programs, and contributed to significant increases in federal education spending.
But imagine how that burden will grow when states have to begin complying with the new conditions layered on them through this extra-legislative process. One of the most concerning conditions attached to the waivers is the requirement for states to adopt common standards and tests or have their state university approve their standards. None of the states have opted for the latter, as the Obama Administration’s many previous carrots and sticks ($4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants and potential Title I dollars) have already pushed them to begin implementing the Common Core national standards and tests.
Having national organizations and the Department of Education dictating standards and tests will effectively centralize control of the content taught in local schools. It’s an unprecedented and dangerous federal overreach.
Circumventing Congress by granting strings-attached waivers from the White House shows a disregard for the legislative process and a not-so-veiled effort to further grow federal control over education. There are No Child Left Behind alternatives being advanced in Congress like the A-PLUS proposal, which would fundamentally reduce the federal role by allowing states to completely opt out of NCLB—with no strings attached.
There is agreement on both sides of the aisle that No Child Left Behind is broken. But the Obama Administration should not circumvent Congress to provide conditions-based waivers to states. States might feel some temporary relief from the onerous provisions of NCLB as a result of the waivers, but in exchange, they’ll be shackled with far tighter federal handcuffs that will ultimately surrender more control over education to Washington bureaucrats. States should reject these waivers and resist this latest federal power grab, while demanding genuine relief from Washington.