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State of the Union Preview: A Backdoor Education Agenda

As President Obama prepares to deliver his latest State of the Union address, the administration is working at a fever pitch to put the final pieces of its backdoor education agenda in place. On Tuesday, the American people are sure to hear the president wax poetically about his efforts to bolster K-12 education, provide relief to states struggling under No Child Left Behind, and grant reprieve to debt-laden college students. However, a closer look at these education ‘reforms’ reveals the reality behind the rhetoric.

A Taxpayer Funded Competition Based on “Bias and Chance”

The basic premise behind President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative is simple: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been granted control over a multi-billion dollar slush fund to be awarded to states as he sees fit.

Though the American people were promised transparency and fairness in the distribution of these taxpayer dollars, concerns have been raised as to whether every state has a fair shot at a piece of the pie.

In fact, a 2010 report by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute concluded, contrary to the Secretary’s rhetoric that the award process was objective and scientific, it was subjective and arbitrary. Thanks to a shadowy peer review process, winning under Race to the Top was more a matter of bias and chance than a state’s application promising education reform.

Worse, the first official assessment of the Race to the Top program released recently found nearly every state that received funds under the program is now dealing with significant challenges that have delayed the implementation of the Secretary’s preferred reforms.

Conditional Waivers Create Confusion, Uncertainty for States

When No Child Left Behind came due for reauthorization in 2007, Democrats had just secured complete control over the United States Congress. Despite maintaining power for the next four years, Democrats failed to advance any legislation to rewrite the law.

When the House changed hands in 2011, Republicans immediately set to work advancing a series of legislation to reform K-12 education. However, the President claimed Congress wasn’t working fast enough and found a way to circumvent the people’s elected representatives by directing Secretary Duncan to grant waivers to states that agree to implement the administration’s preferred education policies.

Serious questions remain as to whether the secretary even has this ‘conditional waiver’ authority, yet that hasn’t stopped the administration from moving full steam ahead. Eleven states have submitted lengthy waiver applications to the Department of Education – but the process of obtaining a waiver, including the role of department staff in evaluating each state’s submission, remains shrouded from the public.

House Republicans continue to put forth legislation to enact lasting education reforms for parents, teachers, and students, but the administration refuses to acknowledge this progress.  And even though not a single state has actually been granted a waiver, Education Secretary Arne Duncan  insists the waivers scheme is “the only game in town.”

Taxpayers on the Hook for Flawed Loan Forgiveness Initiative

Two years ago, President Obama eliminated the private sector student loan program in favor of direct borrowing from the U.S. Treasury. As part of this plan, the president expanded the existing Income-Based Repayment program to force taxpayers to fund special benefits for government workers and pay off individuals’ student loan debt.

Now the president has decided to up the ante by expanding opportunities for student loan borrowers to avoid responsibly repaying their debt, all in the name of “loan forgiveness” and at taxpayers’ expense. 

Needless to say, the latest iteration of the plan, which allows a borrower’s loan balance to be wiped clean after 20 years of repayments capped at just 10% of his or her discretionary income, could have serious implications for taxpayers. Worse, it provides little incentive for loan borrowers to ever fully repay their debts – as the Wall Street Journal wrote, “That’s right. Wait 20 years and, presto, you’re student debt-free.”

The American people will be listening closely on Tuesday – will the president continue to misrepresent his education agenda? We can’t wait to find out.

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