In an interview with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Education Week notes the Senate education committee chairman is “pretty fired up” over the Obama administration’s usurping Congress’ authority in the new massive education law – though parents across the country flooded him and other members of Congress with demands to drop the legislation last year.
Alexander told U.S. Secretary of Education John King during a hearing in April that his proposal to regulate a requirement that federal education dollars supplement state and local spending rather than take their place violated the newly passed “bipartisan” Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
“Not only is what you’re doing against the law, the way you’re trying to do it is against another provision in the law,” Alexander told King, citing new “disturbing evidence” that the Obama administration is ignoring the curbs on federal overreach in education he claims are in the new law.
“Under this department’s theory of regulatory authority, you can apparently do anything,” Alexander told Education Week. “Governors across the country will fight and resist, and I think it’s a shame because we had ended a period of uncertainty, there were hosannas issuing forth from classrooms everywhere, and this one little department is about to upset that.”
Setting forth that his ESSA would allow greater control of education by states and local school districts, Alexander told King during the hearing, “Already we’re seeing disturbing evidence that the Department of Education is ignoring the law that the 22 members of the committee worked so hard to craft.”
Alexander added that the unelected King is attempting to regulate provisions of the law himself, including one the senator said would “require a complete costly overhaul of almost all the state and local finance systems in the country, something we did not pass into law.”
But parents and education activists who have been fighting against the Common Core standards for years now protested Alexander’s insistence on pushing through the massive “bipartisan” bill in order to prove Congress could get things done.
“Since it was so predictable that this massive statist bill would lead to an even greater federal power-grab than we’ve seen before, a cynic might suspect Sen. Alexander is playing to the cameras with his outrage,” education activist and fellow at American Principles Project Jane Robbins told Breitbart News after the hearing. “Savvy parents will not let him off the hook for his complicity in this mess.”
Asked by Education Week if he had been worried about opposition to the bill from Heritage Action Fund and the Club for Growth – which had originally succeeded in upending the bill’s passage in the House – Alexander replied, “Well, you always worry, and particularly with an education bill. I said there were crocodiles lurking every corner of the pond.”
Alexander boasted often about his cooperative work with ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, stating he took her advice to compromise on the bill.
“And it turned out to be good advice,” he said. “I gave up something, but I gained more — not only a working relationship with her but a lot of support from the Democratic members of the committee.”
Alexander named the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions and other pro-Common Core groups as supporters of his bill.
In March, Alexander voted with other Republican senators Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Bill Cassidy, Sen. Susan Collins, and Sen. Jon Cornyn (TX) to confirm King as Education secretary, replacing Arne Duncan. The senate’s education committee chair said he urged the president to bring forward a nominee because he was anxious to have an education department secretary in place to implement the massive new education law.
“I’m in favor of moving pretty rapidly,” Alexander said. “I’d like to work with the House and come up with something that the president can sign pretty quickly. We want a result, and under our constitutional system that takes a presidential signature, and … we’ve stayed in touch with him.”
Alexander claims ESSA has gotten rid of federally mandated Common Core in public schools.
“[F]or example, on Common Core, probably a half a dozen times, [ESSA says]…you can not make a state adopt the Common Core standards,” he says. “And I’m sure that if we hadn’t put that in there, they’d try to do it.”
Nevertheless, Peter Cunningham, who worked for former secretary Duncan, wrote recently, “Under the new law, every state must adopt ‘college- and career-ready’ standards. Thus, the new law all but guarantees that Common Core State Standards–or a reasonable imitation under a different name–will likely remain in place in most states.”
In addition to Murray, Alexander names House Speaker Paul Ryan as playing a key role in the ESSA’s passage.
Education Week reports:
Shortly after becoming speaker, Ryan went to a Senate GOP lunch, Alexander recalled. And he told lawmakers, “We are looking for important pieces of legislation that have bipartisan support, that have been through the committee, that have been through the floor, that the president will sign. And it just so happens he sat down next to me, and I said, ‘I’ve got a bill for you that exactly fits that description. … I called [Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee] and John said, ‘Well I’ve got a meeting with Paul later today.’ And from that we were able to get the bill through the House in a very short period of time. And I think it was fortitous that Chairman Kline chaired the conference committee. We’d worked it out in the Senate and we’d worked it out with the president. And having Congressman Kline chair the conference committee symbolically was very important to getting a result.”
Alexander said he was able to get Obama’s immediate support for ESSA once he agreed to give the president his three requirements for the bill: annual testing, an early-childhood education program, and emphasis on rehabilitating the bottom five percent of schools in the nation.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, in order to get a result, we have to present you with a bill that you are comfortable signing. We’ll keep the testing,'” Alexander said, adding he told Obama he was working with Murray and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) to get the early childhood program included in the bill.
Alexander said he also told Obama Congress would address the lowest five percent of schools.
“That was the understanding that we had, and that’s what we did. And when we got to the signing ceremony in December, we were talking beforehand, he said, ‘You kept your word and did what you said you would do,’ and I said, ‘So did you,’ and that’s not a bad way to work. He, himself, was very professional and good to work with throughout the entire process.”