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Education & Labor Committee Republicans

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By the Numbers: The Secretary of Education's Startling Record of Executive Overreach

Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on the president’s budget and policy proposals for Fiscal Year 2013.

Since assuming his position in the president’s cabinet in January 2009, Secretary Duncan has proven to be an active and visible member of the administration. However, a look at some of the numbers defining his tenure in Washington reveals a startling record of executive overreach and meddling in state and local education decisions.

Number of Dollars the President Proposed for the Secretary’s Slush Fund (Known as Race to the Top) Since 2009: 7.45 billion
In 2009, Secretary Duncan announced a new grant competition to pressure states to undertake the administration’s preferred K-12 policies. The program has provided the secretary sole discretion over a multi-billion dollar slush fund of taxpayer dollars. The administration continues to expand Race to the Top’s size by declaring new phases of the original program and extending its reach into early childhood learning and higher education. So far, the president has proposed a total of $7.45 billion from taxpayers for the secretary to spend on his own policy priorities.

Number of Conditions the Secretary Imposed on States Seeking Access to the Secretary’s Slush Fund: ­­110
To be considered for a Race to the Top grant, states were strongly encouraged to enact specific “reforms” preferred by the secretary. Many states felt coerced to adopt the Common Core Standards and more than 100 other prescriptive federal requirements in order to compete for Race to the Top grants. Instead of operating a transparent competition, the secretary chose to base the program on bias, chance, and coercion.

Number of States Facing Delays in Implementing Phase 1 and 2 Race to the Top Grants: 9
Eleven states and the District of Columbia won grants under the first two phases of Race to the Top. Yet, according to an official assessment of the program, nearly all these “winners” are facing significant challenges, delaying implementation of the secretary’s preferred policies.

Number of Plans the Secretary Proposed to Sidestep Congressional Efforts to Reform No Child Left Behind: 1
Instead of working with Congress to rewrite elementary and secondary education law, the secretary has advanced a conditional waivers scheme that allows states to opt out of certain provisions in No Child Left Behind if they adopt his education agenda. This move embraces temporary changes that only exacerbate the challenges facing schools, and represents a clear overreach of the secretary’s authority.

Number of Conditions States Must Adopt to Get a Waiver From No Child Left Behind: ?
The secretary’s conditional waiver process has been shrouded in secrecy from the beginning. After receiving the first round of waiver applications, he sent letters “suggesting” states change their applications to improve their chances at obtaining a waiver. The whims of the secretary direct the waivers process, leaving states in the dark about the true cost and number of conditions the secretary may mandate.

Number of Times Department Sued for Overreach in the Last Year: 2
In July 2011, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities filed a legal challenge to the department’s regulatory overreach in implementing its gainful employment regulations. In February 2012, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a lawsuit contesting the department’s effort to amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act without authority from Congress. A report last year by the Congressional Research Service raised concerns about the secretary’s authority to grant conditional waivers, leaving the department open to even more legal scrutiny.

The numbers above show a clear pattern of executive overreach, with no end in sight.

That’s why committee Republicans are advancing legislation to revamp No Child Left Behind and reign in the authority of the secretary of education. Together, the Student Success Act (H.R. 3989) and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act (H.R. 3990) will return control for K-12 education to state and local leaders, negating the need for the secretary to coerce states into following his education agenda.

Committee Republicans welcome the support of the secretary and the administration in advance lasting reform for America’s schools.

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