The Obama Administration is pushing new No Child Left Behind (NCLB) “flexibility” waiver extensions on states. While the Administration couches the waivers as “relief” from the unworkable mandates of NCLB, in reality the strings-attached policy would grow federal intervention into education in an unprecedented way.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education offered each state waivers from some of the more onerous NCLB requirements in exchange for adopting the Administration’s preferred policies, including “college and career-ready standards.”
The waivers are set to expire for 34 states and the District of Columbia at the end of the 2013–2014 school year. The Department is offering renewal but is requiring states to reaffirm commitments to its policies. This includes increased emphasis on “college and career-ready standards,” which most states have interpreted to mean Common Core national standards and tests.
As we have noted before, while the Secretary of Education has waiver authority under NCLB statute, but that authority does not extend to granting waivers in exchange for adopting Administration-approved policy. Rather than pursuing policy change through the reauthorization of NCLB, the Department circumvented Congress by granting waivers from the law.
And in August, the Department granted NCLB waivers to eight school districts in California that agreed to the White House’s preferred policies.
This Department-to-school-district pact circumvents state educational leadership entirely, making districts answerable to the Obama Administration instead of their state leaders and local parents and taxpayers. This is the antithesis of federalism, further concentrating educational decision making in the hands of the federal government.
NCLB regulations have saddled many districts with a massive bureaucratic compliance burden. Yet the conditions-based waivers end up tethering states and school districts to Washington more tightly and fail to offer genuine flexibility from the law.
However, there is an alternative to the Obama Administration’s strings-attached NCLB waivers that would give states genuine flexibility regarding NCLB requirements: the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act.
A-PLUS would allow states to opt out of programs mandated under NCLB requirements and send funding under NCLB back to the states in the form of block grants to be used for any educational purpose afforded under the state’s law.
A-PLUS would return educational authority to the states, allowing state leaders to direct the state’s educational priorities. Empowering states with control over how they direct education funding would bring decisions closer to parents and enable them to engage more in the education policies that affect their communities.
The Obama Administration’s NCLB waiver push continues a concerning trend of education centralization in Washington and removes those closest to the children, those who best understand their children’s needs—parents, teachers, and local officials—further from the educational decision-making process. Allowing states the opportunity to completely opt out of NCLB is a better way forward.