Obama Now Legislating Without Congress on Education Issues

Remember when we used to have a legislative process? Lately, the Obama Administration has me wondering if Congress even has a job to do anymore. Between Obamacare, card check, cap and trade, net neutrality, and massive financial regulations, among many others, it’s crystal clear that the Administration would prefer to ignore the limits of the Constitution than abide by it.

With No Child Left Behind (NCLB) “waivers,” the President has topped even his own high bar. The “waivers” plan is a misnomer because it does not give states more freedom. Rather, the plan forces states to comply with nearly 40 new government mandates. This is the nationalization of education policy, which will affect all 50 states and tens of millions of students.

In announcing the waiver scheme, the President explicitly said “given that Congress cannot act, I am acting.” The President must have missed the memo that it’s not his job to make laws, which is, of course, exclusively Congress’ responsibility. Yet Congress did not even hold one hearing on the waiver scheme, let alone actually pass legislation to authorize this move. The Obama Administration continues to legislate through regulations in every aspect of policy, regardless of whether or not the federal government has authorized authority to do so by either the Constitution or Congress.

I’m certain there’s nothing in the Constitution saying that a President can do whatever he wants because Congress is taking too long. If the President wants to change the law, fine, but he needs to actually work with Congress to change the law — not just make proclamations from the White House.

NCLB is far from perfect – in fact, the entire federal education agenda could use a serious overhaul – but that authority lies with Congress’ obligation to craft a new law, not with an overzealous Administration that would prefer to regulate instead of legislate.

It goes without saying that the President’s waivers are giant sops to his friends in the teachers’ unions. The waivers read like AFT President Randi Weingarten’s wish list. Accountability standards are gutted. Schools won’t receive any corrective action for failing to meet their responsibility to our children. Since NCLB began, taxpayers have pumped tens of billions of dollars into schools to help them meet these standards. If they are going to gut high standard accountability, the money that was meant to shepherd the accountability measures should, too, be slashed.

Have you ever noticed that when liberals cede to higher standards and Republicans agree to increased government spending, eventually the accountability standards are phased out but the government spending only continues to increase?

The waivers plan even guts those programs which actually leverage the power of the free market to help students. Take school choice, for instance. Under NCLB, parents whose children are trapped in failing schools have the right to pull them out and enroll them in a higher performing school. The new school could be in the district, or it could be a charter school competing with schools across the state to provide the best services. These are children our public schools are plainly failing to educate. They are the last people who should have their choices diminished.

The President has also chosen to waive Supplemental Education Services (SES), with effects that are nearly as bad. Under NCLB, low-income parents whose children are trapped in failing schools receive after-school tutoring. The law says it is up to parents to decide which tutoring provider they allow their child to attend, be it a faith-based organization, a community organization, or the very same sort of for-profit companies that provide tutoring services. This program leads to significant improvement in student achievement; the Department of Education’s own research says so. Given the President’s hometown, it’s also worth noting that a study by the Chicago Public Schools – commissioned while Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was Superintendent there – came to the same conclusion.

So this is what the Obama Administration’s overreach has come to. His Administration circumvents the Constitution and the rule of law, applies yet more onerous rules and “reforms,” and kills effective programs that harness the free market and empower parents. All of this so he can give yet more power to his constituents in the teachers’ unions, the school bureaucracy, and the education establishment.

The Obama Administration gives teachers unions waivers from accountability but offers no waivers to students who are trapped in chronically failing schools. These priorities are drastically out of sequence, and the tactics are not rooted in the law. Both are disturbing, to say the least.

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