The Left Fears Republicans Will ‘Strip the Federal Role Out of Education’

Common Core

On Friday, Politico offered an image of left-wingers fearful that Republicans at the helm in both the House and the Senate will take advantage of the backlash over the Common Core standards and “strip the federal role out of education.” True conservatives, however, lament that the Republicans in charge are not poised to accomplish that.

Maggie Severns writes that Republicans are “hatching an ambitious plan to rewrite No Child Left Behind this year.”

She states, “The push to rewrite the country’s main K-12 education law will be ‘all about Congress taking a red pen and deleting’ language, said Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a former Education Department staffer.”

What Severns refers to as the “conservative” Fordham Institute, however, is an organization that has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote the Common Core standards, the education initiative that ultimately reminded millions of Americans that the federal government has no constitutional role in education.

Earlier in December, Petrilli, apparently longing for bipartisanship, wrote about his “predictions and predilections for a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA),” the current iteration of which is No Child Left Behind (NCLB):

A reauthorization of the ESEA (on its fiftieth anniversary no less) could play the same role again: showing America that bipartisan governance is possible, even in Washington.

Thankfully, both incoming chairmen of the relevant Senate and House committees—Lamar Alexander and John Kline—have indicated that passing an ESEA reauthorization is job number one. And friends in the Obama administration tell me that Secretary Duncan is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work on something the president could sign. So far, so good.

Searching for that elusive happy medium, Petrilli says that while his organization believes it is not currently politically practical for Washington to have too much power over education (because of the “true” conservatives who have grown powerful in Congress), still “federal education policy” is a must–even though the Constitution provides no role for the federal government in education:

That doesn’t mean that Washington must foreswear reform. To devolve everything to the states would be much like saying, “Here’s fifteen billion dollars in Title I money a year—do whatever you want with it.” The federal government may be a minority investor, but it still has a duty to demand something constructive in return. (Call it accountability for the taxpayer’s dollar.)

The challenge, then, is to find the right spot on the continuum between today’s coercive, micromanaging federal role and “leaving the money on the stump”—a spot that is realistic about Washington’s proper role (and capacity) in the education cosmos, but that still nudges the system in a reform direction.

What does Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), former U.S. education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, have to say about his plans as the new head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee?

Soon after his re-election in November, Alexander told NPR that his first priority would be to “fix No Child Left Behind”:

The Republican proposal to fix NCLB would give states the option — not mandate — to take federal dollars and let those dollars follow children to the schools they attend. We want to expand choice, but my view is that the federal government shouldn’t mandate it. … Republicans would [also] transfer back to states the responsibility for deciding whether schools are succeeding or failing. Tennessee, Texas or New York would decide what the academic standards would be, what the curriculum would be, what to do about failing schools and how to evaluate teachers.

Asked if he supports the Common Core standards, Alexander replied, “I support giving states the right to decide whether to [adopt] the Common Core or not.”

Though Alexander may believe he is moving things in the “right” direction, there is no plan afoot to eliminate federal involvement in education, a factor that frustrates conservatives who have recently been fighting the federal government’s overreach–intermixed with corporate cronyism–into an area that is constitutionally reserved for the states and local governments.

“I am hoping that Chairman Klein and Sen. Alexander will draw the major lessons from NCLB and the more recent Race to the Top programs,” Jim Stergios, executive director of the Boston-based Pioneer Institute, told Breitbart News. “Federal involvement, even with the best of intentions, tends to bring unintended consequences and often even negative impacts on student achievement.”

“With NCLB, we saw many states react by lowering their standards and/or lowering the bar set by their state tests,” Stergios continued. “Race to the Top has handcuffed states seeking to set high standards by locking them into standards that are more or less in line with the average quality of standards in the states prior to the development of Common Core in 2009 and 2010.”

Stergios observed the billions of tax dollars spent on so-called “game-changing initiatives” over the past 15 years, with nothing to show for it, “except that now the decisions are being made further from classrooms.”

“I’m concerned this effort to revise NCLB serves as the quintessential D.C. head-fake wherein some of the old cobwebs of federal intrusion are brushed away but knitting of more recent vintage from the bureaucrats in Washington–initiatives like Common Core and the national tests–are locked into place,” he added. “We’ll have to monitor what comes out to know that.”

Similarly, writing at the Heritage Foundation, Lindsey Burke notes that Alexander will likely use, as his starting point for reauthorizing NCLB, the Every Child Ready for College or a Career Act, which he himself introduced in 2013.

While Burke says Alexander’s measure would eliminate the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and Highly Qualified Teacher mandates, as well as requirements that the states maintain certain levels of spending to qualify for federal funding, his proposal still mandates that states use federal funds to develop programs to enhance the mental, physical, health, and nutrition needs of students.

“It also proposes reforms that are inappropriate for the federal government to pursue,” Burke continues, “such as authorizing competitive grants to be awarded to states and school districts to develop performance-based teacher compensation models and school improvement strategies for local education agencies to use with under-performing schools.”

Burke also observes that Alexander’s original proposal only permits Title I funds for low-income students to be portable to other public schools–not private ones.

“If the forthcoming NCLB reauthorization is modeled after the Every Child Ready for College or a Career Act,” Burke concludes, “it will represent a missed opportunity to advance federalism in education, limit Washington’s overreach into local school policy, and provide states the opportunity to make federal funding student-centered and portable.”

But the advancement of federalism seems miles off for those who are simply hoping for bipartisanship and retention of the ever-incentivizing “strings” that are attached to the states’ acceptance of federal funding. In the recent debate over Common Core, more Americans have come to understand what these “strings” mean in terms of their children’s education.

“As parents, teachers, and other citizens increasingly realize, the US Department of Education is a millstone around the necks of our children,” education director of the American Principles Project, Emmett McGroarty, told Breitbart News. “Unmoored from the constitutional system of checks-and-balances, it gravitates toward education fads like Common Core and heavy-handed accountability schemes like No Child Left Behind.”

“The American people no longer view the US Department of Education as a supplemental agency that lends aid to state and local government,” McGroarty added. “Instead, they view it for what it is: an intermeddler that prevents parents and teachers and state and local government from having a real say in what children learn and how they are taught. Congressional leaders fail to appreciate the breadth and intensity of this change.”


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