During the course of Obamacare oral arguments in late March, an interesting exchange between Justice Samuel Alito and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli illuminated the Administration’s education overreach vis-à-vis national standards. Education Week reports:
For the U.S. Supreme Court, the closely watched six hours of arguments last week were all about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. So how did the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, teacher tenure, curriculum, Title IX, and other education topics become part of the discussion?
They came up as the justices debated whether the health-care law’s expansion of the Medicaid program would give the federal government limitless powers to impose conditions on the states when they accept money in other areas, such as education.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that education spending, conditioned on accepting executive branch policy priorities, was used as an example of federal overreach. The Obama Administration has been overreaching into local school decisions, such as the content taught in classrooms, by requiring states to adopt national standards and tests as a condition of receiving federal education funding. Justice Alito stated:
Let’s say Congress says to the States: We have got great news for you; we know your expenditures on education are a huge financial burden, so we are going to take that completely off your shoulders; we are going to impose a special Federal education tax which will raise exactly the same amount of money as all of the states now spend on education; and then we are going to give you a grant that is equal to what you spent on education last year.
Now, this is a great offer and we think you will take it, but of course, if you take it, it’s going to have some conditions because we are going to set rules on teacher tenure, on collective bargaining, on curriculum, on textbooks, class size, school calendar and many other things. So take it or leave it.
The Obama Administration has conditioned access to Race to the Top on states’ adopting the White House’s preferred education policies, including national standards and tests. The Administration has also conditioned access to No Child Left Behind waivers on states’ adopting common standards. That has left little doubt that any short-term “relief” states feel from entering into the waiver pact will ultimately be overwhelmed by long-term handcuffs, further binding states and school districts to Department of Education rules and regulations.
Toward the end of the exchange, Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of the Obamacare challengers, warned that these continued federal overreaches—made possible through spending—directly threaten federalism.
And it’s a very strange conception of federalism that says that we can simply give the States an offer that they can’t refuse, and through the spending power—which is premised on the notion that Congress can do more because it’s voluntary—we can force the States to do whatever we tell them to. That is a direct threat to our federalism.
Clement’s words should sound a warning bell to state leaders. Bogus waiver “relief” and new spending conditioned on adopting national standards and tests is an offer that governors and state boards of education should in fact refuse. States should reject No Child Left Behind waivers and demand genuine relief from NCLB and should oppose national standards and tests. States that have already adopted still have time to leave the Common Core national standards bandwagon, and they should do so to preserve state and local control over the content taught in local schools across America.