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Left Turn: What They’re Saying: Popularity of Obama K-12 Waivers in Decline

As it turns out, President Obama’s controversial plan to rewrite K-12 education law via executive fiat isn’t as popular as the administration thought. A growing number of education leaders and policy experts have recently come forward to express their doubts about the president’s waiver scheme, noting the waivers fail to provide the lasting, meaningful reform our nation’s children deserve:

  • Marc Tucker, President and CEO of the nonprofit National Center on Education and the Economy, described in the LA Times the enormity of the president’s decision to bypass Congress and impose his waivers plan. Tucker wrote, “The American education system is being reshaped in a truly fundamental way, and with little debate… Do we really want the executive branch of the federal government to decide, pretty much by itself, what the aims of American education should be and how they should be achieved?” Tucker warned that we must discuss the implications of the president’s action “before we wake up one day to find that the executive branch, or even the entire federal government, has become our national school board.”
     
  • The National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, and seven other advocacy groups sent a letter last week to members of Congress stating, “Waivers only provide temporary relief from specific provisions of the law and in exchange require new criteria of states, school districts and schools not formally authorized in NCLB or by Congress. Only a full reauthorization of [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act] can adequately address  the challenges state and local governments face in education.”
      
  • National School Boards Association Executive Director Thomas Gentzel told Education Secretary Arne Duncan that school board members are frustrated with the volume of federal regulations and guidance the department is issuing outside of congressional authority, adding that the waivers aren’t giving schools the control they were promised. “I just don’t think we would agree that there’s as much flexibility as [Secretary Duncan] says there is,” Mr. Gentzel said.
        
  • Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about the need for lasting education reforms through a reauthorization of the law. "Granting temporary waivers of prescriptive NCLB requirements is no substitute for a comprehensive update of the law," she said.  "We believe Congress, not the U.S. Department of Education, should make those important decisions that affect every state and all public school students."
      
  • At a February Senate hearing, state education chiefs from Kentucky and New York also highlighted the temporary nature of the president’s waivers and encouraged Congress to reauthorize the law. As Kentucky’s Terry Holliday said, “With reauthorization, we can implement polices that address the requirements of the legislation with fidelity, knowing that we will not have to alter those plans.” New York’s John King added, “The waiver is not a substitute for full reauthorization of ESEA. There are larger issues that have not been addressed.”

Instead of continuing to promote a temporary waiver scheme that keeps schools and students tied to a broken law, it’s time for the president to work with House and Senate leaders to rewrite No Child Left Behind and help build a better education system in America.

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