Luther Strange Supports Federal Government’s Role in Education

luther strange
AP/Butch Dill

Luther Strange – like many establishment Republicans – supports the most recent federal education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – which still requires the federal government to approve of the education plans of every state.

Allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who voted for ESSA – and the Republican National Committee have joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – a supporter of both the Common Core standards and amnesty for illegal immigrants – to inject cash into the Alabama primary race to elect Strange and score another establishment win.

Strange, the appointed incumbent U.S. senator from Alabama, is running against former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in a primary run-off for the Senate seat once occupied by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Moore is a fierce opponent of federal involvement in education and, consequently, Common Core.

Surprisingly, President Donald Trump has come out in support for Strange, despite the fact that Trump campaigned heavily on eliminating Common Core and working to eliminate the role of the federal government in education.

In a Facebook video in January of 2016, Trump said:

I’m a tremendous believer in education. But education has to be at a local level. We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education.

So Common Core’s a total disaster – we can’t let it continue. We are rated 28th in the world – the United States! – think of it! – 28th in the world – and, frankly, we spend far more per pupil than any other country in the world…by far – it’s not even a close second. So here we are, we spend more money, and we’re rated 28 – third world countries are ahead of us.

We’re gonna end Common Core, we’re gonna have education an absolute priority.

Like many establishment Republicans, Strange – a former lobbyist – has learned to avoid the “toxic” term “Common Core,” even though he is financed by those who have championed the rudimentary math and English standards that states were incentivized to sign onto with funds in former President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill.

On his campaign website, Strange does not even list education as an issue to be addressed, though the movement to obliterate the Common Core is one of the largest bipartisan grassroots efforts of our time.

In 2014, Democrat Joe Hubbard – who ran against Strange for the post of Alabama attorney general – wrote at

This week in Huntsville, Luther Strange told an audience that he “gets to go to work every day and think of new ways to sue” the federal government. Tough talk aside, Strange has not sued to protect Alabama’s children from the federal overreach of Common Core.  And, it is no surprise that some of his largest contributions come from the friends and financial backers of Common Core.

Strange announced his support in June for the CHOICE Act, a federal bill that would incentivize states to tailor school choice programs to students with disabilities.

He said:

Alabama has been working to provide students access to the educational opportunities of their choice, and with this bill, the Federal government will begin to catch up to the example set by the schools of our state. Two years ago Congress secured parental and state control over education with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The CHOICE Act will ensure that students are able to benefit from the freedoms that ESSA guaranteed. I am committed to making sure that every student in Alabama reaches their full potential, and proud to join my colleagues and the School Choice Caucus to take an important step in that direction.

ESSA, however, does not guarantee any freedoms to students or their parents because it is yet another federal education law with requirements that must be met by the states in exchange for federal dollars. The law, in fact, has imposed a form of “Common Core” on the entire country.

During an interview in February, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) – who has endorsed Moore – explained to Breitbart News:

A couple years ago we reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – we called it ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and I voted against it, because, although it did ameliorate Common Core, it substituted new requirements for the old requirements. It’s sort of like Groundhog Day, I told my fellow legislators – “Look, this is going to be a new ‘Core.’ Instead of the ‘Common Core,’ if we prescribe these requirements – and here’s the conditions for the funding.” And one of my colleagues told me on the floor of the House, “You can’t expect us to give it back to the states without conditions, do you?” And I said, “Yeah, I do. I think the states can make these decisions.”

In December of 2015, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate committee that oversees education, boasted that he and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) had facilitated the “bipartisan” passage of the ESSA measure that would replace the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Obama signed the bill into law almost immediately, referring to it as a “Christmas miracle.”

“We have reversed the trend toward a national school board, repealed the federal Common Core mandate, and enacted what the Wall Street Journal called ‘the largest devolution of federal control to states in a quarter century,” Alexander, who now is masterminding a “bipartisan fix” to Obamacare, touted.

One by one, establishment Republicans announced the end to the Common Core mandate.

Parent activists and education scholars who have studied the law, however, assert ESSA neither repeals the Common Core mandate, nor prohibits the education secretary from coercing states into adopting the standards. In fact, those who have been battling against the Common Core in the states say ESSA actually does the opposite: it keeps states anchored to the controversial education reform.

American Principles Project (APP) education fellow Jane Robbins and Indiana parent activist Erin Tuttle wrote at The Pulse 2016:

Within the other 1,060 pages of ESSA lurk the provisions that will keep states in Common Core, or something that looks very much like Common Core. The Secretary won’t have to mandate anything, because the other parts of the bill contain the requirements for … “high standards,” a phrase that has come to refer to Common Core.

[W]hile NCLB never dictated any state alignment for academic standards, ESSA requires every state to submit its plan for standards for approval to the U.S. Department of Education.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, for example, has just “approved” a group of state education plans for meeting the federal requirements of ESSA.

“North Dakota’s plan meets the law’s requirements, so I am glad to announce its approval,” the secretary announced on September 1.

“After reviewing Arizona’s plan and ensuring it complies with the law, I am pleased to approve it,” said DeVos in a statement on September 7.

The secretary is even now continuing to “approve” state education plans. The plans of Colorado, Massachusetts, and Michigan have not been approved.

Robbins and Tuttle quote the ESSA law and translate the Common Core rhetoric:

“Each State shall demonstrate that the challenging academic standards are aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education in the State and relevant State career and technical education standards.” This is simply another way of saying states must have “college- and career-ready” standards. And as made clear by the U.S. Department of Education’s own materials, “college- and career-ready” means Common Core.

Nearly two years after ESSA was signed into law by Obama, DeVos said what establishment Republicans said after ESSA was passed – that the law “essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core.”

Yet, according to Education Week, “at least 37 states” were still using the Common Core standards or its “rebrands” as of the end of last year.

In addition to approving states’ education plans, ESSA encourages schools to include non-academic measures in their accountability ratings, such as psychological data. As a result, education technology companies have seized upon the opportunity to produce “social and emotional learning” programs, which have become a central focus in public schools, even though a majority of U.S. students are not proficient in the basic math and reading skills necessary for success in life.

Pediatrician Dr. Karen Effrem is president of Education Liberty Watch and executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition. In a column at the National Pulse, she observes that organizations such as the National Association of State Boards of Education and the American School Counselors Association openly acknowledge that a primary purpose of the Common Core State Standards is “to mold and profile students’ attitudes, beliefs and behavior — through what’s called social emotional learning (SEL) or ‘21st Century Skills.’”

Effrem tells Breitbart News:

The Every Student Succeeds Act requires other factors besides student achievement in their mandated accountability plan, which is a wide gateway for social emotional assessment and data collection. State (Common Core) Assessments and The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – also known as The Nation’s Report Card – are already starting to include mindset and school climate questions either as surveys or as part of the tests themselves.

APP senior fellow Emmett McGroarty wrote at The Pulse 2016 following the approval of ESSA, “Anti-Common Core activists tried for months to warn Congress that the new federal education bill … was a disaster that would cement, not overturn, the odious progressive-education philosophies of the Obama Administration.”

In February, Massie introduced a bill to abolish the federal education department. The measure consists of only one sentence: “The Department of Education Shall Terminate on December 31, 2018.”

“Neither Congress nor the President, through his appointees, has the constitutional authority to dictate how and what our children must learn,” Massie said in a press release announcing his bill.

He added:

Unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. should not be in charge of our children’s intellectual and moral development. States and local communities are best positioned to shape curricula that meet the needs of their students. Schools should be accountable. Parents have the right to choose the most appropriate educational opportunity for their children, including home school, public school, or private school.

In endorsing Moore, the Kentucky Republican said:

Roy Moore has more political spine than anyone I know.

He has twice chosen to lose his job rather than compromise his principles. He is a man willing to stand up to the out of control courts and help us return to the limited government outlined in our Constitution. I give him my full support and look forward to having him as a stalwart colleague in the Senate.

The two men agree the Constitution gives no role for the federal government in education matters.

Earlier in September, Moore released a video message on his Twitter account in which he said it is time to end the federal government’s involvement in education and allow parents to take the lead in how best to educate their children.

“They know best how to educate their children,” he said. “The states have various forms of education, but the federal government has no involvement in education under the Constitution.”

Moore continued:

The federal government should have no involvement in education. Common Core is an example of an attempt to indoctrinate our children with ideas that most people – at least in Alabama – don’t agree with. And yet it’s pushed on us by using our own tax money to buy our children over. And I think that’s very wrong. I oppose Common Core…it’s a very bad thing…and I think it should be stopped in Alabama.

Moore and Massie articulate the kind of “natural” school choice that would take place if the federal government would exit the realm of education and leave education policy to states and localities. Many establishment Republicans – Luther Strange included – who are wedded to the federal ESSA law, claim to advocate for school choice, but want the federal government involved in defining the nature of that choice.

Strange’s campaign did not respond to Breitbart News’s request for comment.

The Alabama primary runoff election is September 26. The winner of that race will face the Democratic candidate – former Clinton U.S. Attorney Doug Jones – on December 12.



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