Just a month into 2015, the year is already being hailed by some as “the year of school choice.”
With Congress likely to hold a vote to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in the coming months, three new federal bills provide the language necessary to restore local control of education, and kill off Common Core standards once and for all.
At first glance, one might wonder why federal legislation is appropriate or necessary to deal with Common Core. It’s a fair question.
The United States has always recognized that education is a matter best left to state and local governments. The Constitution grants no authority to federal government to meddle in education policy, and both tradition and common sense have acknowledged that decentralization results in the kind of flexible and adaptable school systems that allow children to thrive.
In this photo taken on Tuesday, March 25, 2013, Mrs. Mary Natali goes over some information on the dry-erase board with her first grade class at George Buck Elementary School in Indianapolis. The national math and education standards outlined in the Common Core are everywhere at Buck Elementary. Stapled packets of the standards hang outside classroom doors, and individual guidelines are cut out and displayed in the hallways next to hand-drawn graphs scribbled in crayon. A bill signed by Gov. Mike Pence makes Indiana the first state to revoke those standards, but what will replace them is unclear in a state where teachers are still reeling from years of change. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
All of this has begun to change, however, as the federal government, under the banner of the U.S. Department of Education, has been steadily expanding its authority over the states for the last several decades. From the President George W, Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind to President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top funding program, federal initiatives are increasingly undercutting the ability of the states to determine an independent education policy.
The fact that none of these programs has demonstrated the merest sliver of success has done nothing to stop the federal onslaught, which may have finally gone too far with the implementation of Common Core education standards, a policy which is almost universally deplored by parents, students, and teachers alike.
While supporters of the standards have repeatedly echoed the line that they were developed by the states, and are therefore not a federal program, the fact is that states have been bullied into their adoption through federal mandates. Race to the Top requires states to adopt common standards in order to access billions of dollars in funding, and waivers for No Child Left Behind are only available to states that go along with certain standards and testing requirements.
While a number of states have seen the errors of Common Core and have attempted to extricate themselves from it, these federal incentive programs put governors between a rock and a hard place.
Last year, Mike Pence drew the ire of the grassroots by doing away with Common Core standards, only to implement an almost identical set of state level standards in order not to forfeit Indiana’s funding. We are now seeing the same kinds of proposals crop up in an alarming number of state repeal bills, most of which would do far less than promised even if they were to pass.
Although it is important and necessary for states to continue fighting back against Common Core, federal incentives limit their ability to do so effectively. Therefore, a federal solution is required. Fortunately, this need has been recognized by at least three senators.
In this Jan. 16, 2013 file photo, concerned grandparent Sue Lile, of Carmel, Ind., shows her opposition to Common Core standards during a rally at the State House rotunda in Indianapolis. Some states are pushing back against the new set of uniform benchmarks for reading, writing and math that replace a hodgepodge of of goals that had varied wildly from state to state and are being widely implemented this school year in most states. (AP/The Star, Frank Espich)
Already in the 2015 legislative session, Sens. Pat Roberts, Mike Crapo, and David Vitter have introduced bills that would forbid the federal government from requiring the adoption of standards, testing, or data collection as a requirement for funding, grants, or waivers.
This is a crucial step towards meaningful education reform. As long as the federal government has the power to tie the hands of the states by threatening to withdraw funds or deny waivers, the Department of Education is effectively running the show, despite what the Constitution and centuries of tradition demand.
The reauthorization of ESEA, the law which contains the language of No Child Left Behind, provides the perfect opportunity to fight for meaningful education reform that gets the federal government out of the states’ business once and for all. Republicans can—and should—use the vote as leverage to block the Department of Education’s ability to twist the arms of governors into adopting standards that are bad for children and bad for teachers.
The resulting increase in choice and competition can only lead to better education outcomes for our children, and it is encouraging that the Senate has made this important reform a priority in the early days of the 114th Congress.
Logan Albright is a research analyst for FreedomWorks, a grassroots service center serving more than 6 million activists, who believe in individual liberty and constitutionally-limited government.
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