‘Bipartisan’ Lamar Alexander Finds ‘Disturbing Evidence’ Obama Administration Ignoring Curbs on Federal Overreach in Education

Education Secretary John King, Jr. talks with Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., left, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

After celebrating the “bipartisan” passage of his new federal education law that replaced No Child Left Behind, Sen. Lamar Alexander says he has “disturbing evidence” that the newly confirmed U.S. Department of Education secretary is ignoring curbs on federal overreach in education Alexander says are in the new law.

During an oversight hearing of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), chairman Alexander told Education Secretary John King that in a negotiated rulemaking session, “your department proposed a rule that would do exactly what the law says it shall not do ….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.”

Addressing King at the hearing, Alexander reminded him that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed in bipartisan fashion with President Obama declaring it a “Christmas miracle.” He said the legislation “got rid of” things such as a “national school board” and other intrusive federal overreach into education decisions that should be made by the states and local school districts.

“[W]e have explicit prohibitions on what a future secretary might do,” Alexander said about the ESSA. “This was all a dramatic change, it’s called the biggest evolution of responsibility for education from the federal government to states in 25 years, but it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on if it’s not implemented properly.”

“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,” he continued, adding that the unelected King attempted to regulate provisions of the law himself, including one that Alexander 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.”

“Mr. Secretary, 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 said to King. “Your lawyers would attempt to ignore what we wrote and try to move around it.”

Despite massive protests from anti-Common Core parent groups around the nation, Alexander began working on a bipartisan compromise to quickly push through another federal education measure as soon as Republicans gained the majority in the Senate.

“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 fellow at American Principles Project Jane Robbins tells Breitbart News. “Savvy parents will not let him off the hook for his complicity in this mess.”

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 during an interview. “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. Alexander 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’s Senate education committee voted to advance King’s nomination by a vote of 16-6.

Alexander claims ESSA has gotten rid of federally mandated Common Core in public schools.

“It doesn’t quite matter what Dr. King thinks of Common Core,” Alexander said to King’s critics regarding his overwhelming support for the federalized standards. “Under the law, he doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

Peter Cunningham, who worked for former secretary Duncan, wrote recently, however, “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.”


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