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Part 4: Ten Years Later, A Better Way Forward for K-12 Schools
Ending the Education Secretary's Overreach

Late last year, the U.S. Secretary of Education took unprecedented action and announced a plan that would allow the administration to unilaterally dictate federal education policy without Congressional input.

Secretary Arne Duncan’s plan to grant waivers for certain requirements under No Child Left Behind in exchange for states adopting the administration’s preferred education agenda has been called “the most sweeping use of executive authority to rewrite federal education law since Washington expanded its involvement in education in the 1960s” by the New York Times.

In the Washington Post, George Will likened the plan to “coercive federalism”:

George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was the eighth reauthorization of the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act]. It is due for a ninth, but the Obama administration considers the Republican-controlled House of Representatives icky and the separation of powers tiresome, so it is dispensing with legislation in favor of coercion — what has been called “coercive federalism.”

Already, this conditional waivers plan has generated great uncertainty for state and local education officials. States that opt in to the plan will be forced to dedicate time and limited resources to implement a host of new federal regulations. However, the requirements could be easily changed by Congress, Secretary Duncan, or the next administration, potentially rendering a state’s investment in changing its education system meaningless.

Montana’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau told Education Week the secretary’s waiver proposal fails to fix “the biggest broken pieces of No Child Left Behind,” adding, “Taking on additional requirements to get a waiver that isn’t really a waiver doesn’t seem smart.”

Making matters worse, the secretary's waiver plan – similar to his ill-fated Race to the Top program – pressures states to adopt common academic standards and tests in reading and math, creating de facto national standards and national tests. This one-size-fits-all approach usurps the power of local superintendents, school boards, and parents who know more about what kids need to learn than bureaucrats in Washington.

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) has said the secretary's actions are "a temporary band-aid on a problem that must be resolved through legislation – not executive fiat.”

House Education and the Workforce Committee Republicans are determined to fix current education law the right way – with smart legislative policies that will have a lasting impact. Toward that effort, Republicans recently released two pieces of draft legislation to overhaul No Child Left Behind. In addition to provisions that support state-developed accountability systems and a smaller federal footprint in education, the legislation includes four provisions that rein in the authority of the Secretary of Education and preserve state and local control. The legislation:

  1. Prohibits the secretary from imposing conditions on states and school districts in exchange for a waiver of federal K-12 education law; this includes any condition affecting academic standards and assessments, accountability systems, or teacher and principal evaluations;
  2. Prohibits the secretary from demanding changes to state standards or influencing and coercing states into entering partnerships with other states;
  3. Removes the secretary's authority to add new, open-ended requirements to federal programs, preventing the secretary from burdening states and districts through the regulatory process; and
  4. Sets specific procedures the secretary must follow when issuing federal regulations and conducting peer review processes for grant applications, including publicly releasing the identity of peer reviewers, thereby ensuring greater transparency.

We cannot allow the Obama administration to implement a backdoor education agenda. It’s time to advance real change in our nation’s education system. The Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act provide states and school districts with a clear path forward that will help get more effective teachers in the classroom, enhance accountability, and raise the bar on student achievement.

Throughout the week, the committee will release a series of documents outlining how the new proposals benefit children and families, protect schools from overly prescriptive federal mandates, and encourage innovation in the classroom. To see previous documents from this series, click here:

Part 1: New Republican Proposals Advance Education Reform

Part 2: Returning Responsibility for Student Achievement to State and Local Leaders

Part 3: Supporting Effective Teachers in Every Classroom

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