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Senator rips Obama administration's detailed guidance to schools on carpet quality, Wi-Fi hot spots

Advance for Sunday, Oct. 5--Students crowd the hallways as they walk to their classes Wednesday, Sept.17, 2014 at Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Miss. The high school is currently building a new classrooms and a performing arts center to help ease the overcrowding. (AP Photo/The Hattiesburg American, Eric Shelton) AP Photo/The Hattiesburg American, Eric Shelton

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) this week said the Obama administration has gone too far in trying to dictate school standards, after the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights said it could bring a civil rights complaint against schools if minority students are put into areas that aren't painted as nicely or don't have nice carpeting.

The Office of Civil Rights issued a 37-page letter to all schools this week outlining how it will decide whether minority students have access to the same educational tools as white students. While that letter discussed obvious issues like teacher quality, it also said it would be looking to make sure minority students have the same physical environment as white students.

The Department of Education has issued new guidance to schools, like this one in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on how to ensure minority students have access to the same physical environment as white students. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says the government is micro-managing schools. (AP Photo/The Hattiesburg American, Eric Shelton)

"[W]hen classrooms are too hot, too cold, overcrowded, dust-filled, or poorly ventilated, students and teachers suffer," it said. "The overall physical condition of the school, including features such as paint, maintenance of carpet and lockers, and the absence of vandalism, has also been linked to improved student achievement."

"OCR generally investigates a range of indicators regarding the general upkeep and quality of buildings to judge whether students of color are disproportionately attending schools that are in inferior physical condition or that are physically inaccessible to students with disabilities," it added.

The department's letter also said it would examine whether students have the same access to technology. "OCR also examines the extent to which students have access to necessary technology outside of school and how school districts support students who do not have internet access at home, such as through providing wireless access via a Wi-Fi hotspot at school that is available outside of school hours," it said.

Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate committee that deals with education, said the long letter is the latest example of the federal government's overreach into an issue that should be handled by the states.

"This administration's National School Board has gone from telling states what academic standards they should set to, now, making decisions for our school districts about school wi-fi hotspots, air conditioning systems, performance art spaces or the quality of the carpeting in the hallways," he said. "Tennessee's 1 million public school students are only going to learn what they need to know from the teachers, principals, and school officials who know them best—not from the bureaucrats running the National School Board in Washington."

Alexander said the Senate should combat the Department of Education's latest guidance by passing his legislation, which would let states set their own educational goals and give more power to parents and teachers in setting these standards.

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