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Moving in the Right Direction

Reining in the Secretary of Education

Separation of powers. States’ rights. Local control. These are just a few fundamental principles the Obama administration has ignored when it comes to K-12 education, and it’s time for Congress to do something about it.

It began in 2009 with a multibillion dollar slush fund known as “Race to the Top.” Created in the Democrats’ failed stimulus law, the program empowered the secretary of education to hand out federal dollars to cash-strapped states, and later school districts, if and only if they adopted the administration’s preferred education policies. This taxpayer funded competition was heavy on requirements, light on transparency, and the left-learning Economic Policy Institute revealed it was based on “bias and chance.” Former Texas Governor Rick Perry called Race to the Top “an unacceptable intrusion on states’ control over education.”

The administration then extended its overreach by concocting a convoluted conditional waiver scheme, which replaces some of No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) more onerous requirements with more mandates from Washington – compounding the confusion and frustration shared by state and local education leaders. As Chairman Kline described, the waivers are “making it difficult for educators to provide a quality education and countless children are paying the price.” California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson expressed a similar sentiment, noting, the waivers “further [erode] what local control of our schools remains.”

With billions of taxpayer dollars and NCLB waivers in his back pocket, the secretary of education has bypassed the legislative process and forced on states and school districts a backdoor education agenda that includes Common Core, teacher evaluations based on high stakes testing, and school turnaround plans.

Questioning the administration’s heavy-handed approach to K-12 education, Torlakson said:

Relief from the failings of federal policy should not be reserved only for those prepared to provide Washington an ever-expanding role in the operation of … public schools.

This unprecedented executive overreach has allowed the president and the secretary to dictate education policies historically reserved for states and school districts – stymying innovation, frustrating parents and educators, and undermining an effort in Congress to replace a flawed law with meaningful reforms.

The Student Success Act puts an end to the administration’s harmful education power grabs by reining in the secretary of education and restoring state and local control over K-12 schools. The legislation:

  • Prohibits the secretary of education from coercing states into adopting Common Core or other common standards or assessments;
  • Prevents the secretary of education from creating additional burdens on states and school districts, particularly in the areas of standards, assessments, and accountability plans; and
  • Outlines specific procedures the secretary of education must follow when issuing federal regulations and requires greater transparency and accountability over the development of new rules affecting K-12 schools.

 As the American Enterprise Institute's Michael McShane and Max Eden wrote, without the Student Success Act,

The Obama Department of Education will continue to use No Child Left Behind waivers to dictate education policy to the states. The Common Core will be all but guaranteed indefinitely.

Two – or even more – years of the status quo will normalize the Obama administration’s behavior, and it’s not at all clear that conservatives will get a better chance to set things right.

It's time for Congress to act. It's time to replace a flawed law with commonsense reforms and to end the administration's ability to unilaterally write education policy. It's time to pass the ​Student Success Act.​

To learn more about the Student Success Act, click here.

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