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September 23, 2011

NCLB Waivers With Strings: Another Federal Overreach Into Education

Obama Executive Overreach

  • Waivers: After failing to get its education agenda through Congress on its own rushed timeline, the Obama Administration intends to grant conditions-based waivers to states from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014 and includes sanctions for schools that fail to meet this benchmark.
  • With Strings Attached: In order to receive a waiver, states must adopt “college- and career-ready” standards, which is the same language and framework employed by the Common Core Initiative to establish national continuity of the standards taught in every public school district in the country. While the Administration has argued that the push for these national standards is voluntary, the waivers’ requirement for states to adopt national standards and tests is an unprecedented federal intervention into curriculum.

Temporary Relief, Long-Term Pain

  • Red TapeCircumventing Congress: Like the auto bailout, EPA regulations, and Obamacare, this proposal circumvents normal legislative procedure by proposing conditions-based waivers for No Child Left Behind. The Obama Administration has exercised executive overreach time and time again and is now trying to rewrite the nation’s largest K-12 education law from the White House.
  • Federal Overreach: NCLB was a blunt instrument to try to drive accountability from Washington. It was a significant federal overreach into local school policy, which has had harmful unintended consequences.
  • And More Federal Overreach: Now the Obama Administration wants to correct one federal overreach with another. If states accept the condition-based waivers, they’ll be clinging to some temporary relief from Washington’s regulations while ceding more control to the very bureaucrats that are binding their hands.

Competing Visions for No Child Left Behind

  • NCLB is Broken: The Obama administration and conservatives agree: NCLB is broken. But perspectives diverge dramatically from there. While the Administration blames “congressional inaction” for failing to complete a rush reauthorization of the massive 600-page NCLB law, the real reason is fundamental differences about the federal role in education. Liberals want Washington-centric, one-size-fits-all education policy. Conservatives want educational decision-making authority restored to those closest to the student: state and local leaders and parents.
  • Alternatives Exist: House conservatives have led action in Congress to provide serious alternatives to NCLB, passing several proposals through committee that would deliver authentic flexibility to states and districts.

A Better Course Forward: Limit Washington’s Role

  • Limit Overreach and Restore Authority: Instead of conditions-based waivers that make an end-run around Congress, policymakers should pursue proposals to limit Washington’s overreach in education and restore educational decision-making authority to states.
  • Let States Opt Out: A conservative alternative to NCLB—the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act—would allow states to completely opt out of the problematic law.
  • Simplify Education Programs: Federal policymakers should simultaneously simplify the programmatic labyrinth within the Department of Education by eliminating and consolidating ineffective and duplicative programs. Policymakers should also allow states to make federal Title I dollars portable, so that the money follows students to schools—public or private—of their choice.

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