Last week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce took an important step toward rescinding some of the most burdensome regulations levied under the Every Student Succeeds Act (the replacement for the No Child Left Behind Act) by the Obama administration Department of Education.
Reps. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Todd Rokita, R-Ind., formally introduced resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act for two of the Obama administration’s prescriptive regulations: rules governing teacher preparation programs and rules governing accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
These resolutions of disapproval would prevent the Department of Education from implementing the rules or any substantially similar rules without congressional approval.
As Lindsey Burke and I argued in a recent paper concerning regulatory overreach under the Every Student Succeeds Act, scrapping the law’s regulations written by the Obama administration’s Department of Education through use of the Congressional Review Act would help remove some of the prescription layered onto the act.
While congressional architects envisioned the law as a vehicle for curtailing some of the federal overreach that had been created through No Child Left Behind, the regulations were not written in the same spirit.
Rescinding these regulations is a good first step. But in addition, Congress should pursue policies that genuinely restore state and local control in education in a way that the Every Student Succeeds Act fell short of accomplishing.
Proponents hailed this education law as one that would limit power from Washington, restoring state and local control of education by eliminating many of No Child Left Behind’s onerous requirements.
However, while it eliminated provisions like Adequate Yearly Progress and Highly Qualified Teacher mandates—one-size-fits-all standards that put Washington in the driver’s seat of education—the Every Student Succeeds Act kept in place a complex federal framework of oversight and high levels of spending.
Importantly, states were not given the option to opt out of the law through reforms such as the A-PLUS (Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success) Act—a long-held conservative policy priority.
President Barack Obama’s Department of Education under Secretary John King took the prescriptive law and proceeded to write regulations that magnified that law’s shortcomings. The regulations narrowed possibilities for state flexibility, complicated decisions, increased paperwork, and generally wrapped states ever more tightly in a web of federal rules.
Ignoring statutory prohibitions, the Department of Education added qualifications to accountability indicators, dictated the methodology for weighing indicators, and inserted unnecessary reporting requirements.
Some of the rules were breathtakingly meddlesome, including one that dictated to the precise dollar amount states must invest in each school that needs improvement.
Many state boards of education, state superintendents, and other state leaders used the comment period on this accountability rule to illustrate how this level of federal prescription would negatively impact their state, their students, and their school finances.
Some state officials, like Randy Dorn, Washington state’s superintendent of public instruction, compared the rule to the draconian system under No Child Left Behind: “[I]n some instances, it seems like a return to the archaic measures required under No Child Left Behind.”
Other states, like South Dakota, suggested that the federal Department of Education was hopelessly out of touch with their needs and concerns:
We find the estimates submitted to the Office of Management and Budget to be wildly out of sync with the effort the [South Dakota Department of Education] will need to undertake to integrate data systems and report the require data. In particular, this is true because there are not decreased reporting requirements in other areas. This will be a significant feat, in particular for a state that is minimally funded and minimally staffed; the burden compliance will place on our staff should not be underestimated.
The specific needs of each state and local community cannot be met or anticipated by agency bureaucrats from Washington, D.C.
Regulations that are used to clarify points of confusion in a statute are necessary, but the use of regulation to prescribe the day-to-day operations of local schools is an overreach of federal power, particularly when the needs of each community are so unique.
The resolutions of disapproval are an important first step to limiting federal encroachment in local decision-making.
Now, Congress should take the opportunity to allow states to totally opt out of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and to put dollars toward their own state and local priorities.