Obama Administration, Common Core Present Obstacles to School Choice

Obama Administration, Common Core Present Obstacles to School Choice

As National School Choice Week (NSCW) gets underway, supporters of education freedom for parents and their children are facing opposition from both the Obama administration and the new Common Core State Standards that could eventually force all students in America to be bound by them regardless of their education venue.

With more than 5,500 events and activities scheduled across the country, NSCW 2014 is running from January 26th through February 1st. Individuals, schools, and organizations are participating to support parents’ ability to choose the best educational environments for their children.

School choice, or education freedom, however, is facing an uphill battle with an administration that seems bent on defeating efforts to empower parents to make education choices for their children in the name of racial equality, along with the new Common Core standards that have been adopted even by Catholic and other private schools for fear their students will no longer be competitive with those in public schools in the United States.

The state of Louisiana and its governor Bobby Jindal (R) are at the heart of a controversy involving yet more federal overreach into state decisions, this time regarding education and parental choice.

As Breitbart News reported previously, in November a federal judge ruled in favor of the Obama administration by requiring Louisiana, which has had a successful school voucher program, to permit federal oversight of the program, a decision that opens the door to the court’s acceptance of further involvement by the federal government in local school choice policies.

The Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) states its concern is that Louisiana will be allowing public school funding to be passed on to private schools that discriminate based on race. Louisiana, however, has argued DOJ’s concern is a non-issue since the private schools participating in the state’s school voucher program must have already proven themselves to meet the federal requirements for non-discrimination in order to participate in the program in the first place.

In addition, the DOJ is requesting that the applications for private schools include “the student enrollment, by race, at the school for the current school year.” With the data it receives, it could then disrupt the voucher program by singling out individual awards it believes are discriminatory, an action that would likely result in litigation.

Jindal said he was “shocked to learn that the Justice Department is now asking for the state to provide an analysis of the racial composition of our state’s private schools.”

“The federal government’s new request is a frightening overreach of the federal government and shows it knows no bounds,” Jindal added. “The Department of Justice proposal reeks of federal government intrusion and proves the people in Washington running our federal government are more interested in skin color than they are in education.”

As Newsmax reports, Lindsey Burke, education policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, said, “To be able to step in and pre-approve a voucher program is breathtaking federal overreach.”

“The Department of Justice is now basically trying to micromanage the program to death,” she said. “The federal government now wants to pre-approve every single voucher in Louisiana. It’s hard to even wrap your head around the audacity of Washington, trying to [require schools] to provide information on every student who applies for a voucher and then have the authority to disapprove it.”

In a report at the Heritage Foundation, Burke, et al. also observed that Americans are confronting another “massive effort to further centralize education: the Common Core State Standards initiative,” which, ultimately, may severely restrict parental choice in education:

Choice in education through vouchers, education savings accounts, online learning, tuition tax credit options, homeschooling – all of these options are changing how education is delivered to students, matching options to student learning needs. It’s the type of customization that has been absent from our education system. Choice and customization are critical components necessary to improve education in America. Imposing uniformity on the system through national standards and tests and further centralizing decision-making will only perpetuate the status quo.

Even back in February of 2011, Rick Hess, writing at Education Week, expressed concern about how charter schools will be negatively affected by Common Core:

A particularly compelling example is posed by the looming collision that might occur when the unfolding effort comes to the attention of charter schoolers and school choice enthusiasts…

Now, in practice, any standardized assessment system is going to be constraining to some extent (by requiring that schools teach certain skills or materials in the course of a given year), but charter schools and choice advocates have largely made their peace with that kind of accountability. What’s unsettling about the Common Core push is how much more intrusive the assessments and prescriptions appear to be getting, without anyone having really thought through the consequences.

Similarly, William Estrada, Director of Federal Relations at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), told Breitbart News that homeschoolers are concerned their freedom to choose curricula could be affected by Common Core.

“In a nutshell, we’re very concerned about tests like the ACT and SAT being aligned to the Common Core, the potential for colleges and universities to require applicants to have gone through a Common Core-aligned K-12 education, and the danger of homeschool students being included in Common Core databases,” Estrada said.

He added that homeschoolers are working alongside public school parents against the federal overreach experienced through the Common Core.

“Even though homeschoolers and private schools are currently exempt from the Common Core, we know that top down education approaches are bad for children and bad for freedom,” Estrada said.