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“A Major Transfer of Power and Authority over Public Schools”

Last week, a House-Senate conference committee reached agreement on a proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, bringing Congress one step closer to replacing No Child Left Behind. As news reports highlight, the framework approved by the joint committee reduces the federal footprint in the nation’s classrooms and provides parents and state and school leaders with the certainty and flexibility they need to deliver a quality education:
  • The final agreement … would mark a major transfer of power and authority over public schools from the federal government to states and local school districts. It would also mean a significant reduction in the legal authority of the U.S. education secretary. The deal would largely dismantle the federal accountability system created in 2002 by No Child Left Behind … It would also extinguish the system of waivers given by the Obama administration, in which states that wanted to escape the demands of No Child Left Behind agreed to embrace the preferred policies of the administration. — Washington Post

  • The compromise sharply reduces the federal role in education, giving the states the authority to determine a school's performance … The Education Department also would be barred from mandating or giving states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, such as the college and career-ready curriculum guidelines known as Common Core. — Associated Press

  • Notably, the new legislation will go to great lengths to tie the hands of the secretary of the Department of Education by putting strict language where NCLB had left discretion to the department.Deseret News

  • This will turn decisions about accountability back to the local level, [school district officials] say. "Some people might try to portray this as a free-for-all, or the wild, wild west, but that's not the case," said David Schuler, the superintendent of High School District 214 in the Chicago suburbs, and the president of the AASA, the School Administrators Association. "This would allow those conversations to move from D.C., in most cases, to our state capitol, and that's where they should be.Education Week   

  • There would be less federally mandated testing in schools, and the remaining tests would not be tied to any federal consequences. The bill also prohibits the Department of Education from giving states special positive or negative incentives to adopt specific academic standards, as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been doing with Common Core using waivers from No Child Left Behind. Washington Examiner

  • This new ESEA gives power back to the states, which would now be in charge of fixing their most embattled schools, evaluating their teachers, deciding which tests to administer, determining how to use those tests to rank schools, how to educate dual-language learners, and on and on and on. In other words, we might finally be turning the corner on the era of federal micromanagement of K–12 education and leaving No Child Left Behind behind. Slate

  • It cuts down on the number of education programs in what they see as a bloated department and prevents a future secretary from overstepping his or her bounds the way they say Duncan did. States and districts, they say, will do a better job than Washington responding to the needs of poor and minority kids.Politico

  • Under the new K-12 law, school districts identified by their states as under-performing would be eligible for federal grants to make improvements, but the federal government wouldn't prescribe which reforms are necessary. The deal also would bar the U.S. Education Department from requiring states to adopt Common Core academic standards in exchange for federal grants. USA Today

  • The greatest change in the proposed law is a dismantling of the federal accountability system that defined whether K-12 schools were successful, prescribed actions to improve struggling schools, and imposed penalties on states and schools that failed to make progress. It also prevents the federal government from requiring states to evaluate teachers and principals and adopt specific academic standards. Washington Post

Conservatives are also recognizing the stark difference between NCLB and the House-Senate proposal. Frederick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, recently wrote in The Hill,

The new bill contains unprecedented language restricting the secretary of Education's discretion and eliminating his or her ability to use the law to shape state policy. It ends the invasive and problematic Race to the Top and School Improvement Grant programs. It contains strong language prohibiting federal officials from seeking to influence state academic standards (think of this as the "no more federal support for the Common Core" provision). It puts an end to the federal government telling states how to improve teacher quality or evaluate teachers. 

This AEI scholar has also described the bicameral framework as striking a “ringing blow for the principle of limited government” and “a notable conservative victory.” Congress is expected to review and consider a final bill in the coming weeks. Before the end of the year, the American people should have a new K-12 education law that will help ensure every child receives an excellent education.

For more information on the framework, click here

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