by Michael Wille
Last month, Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan continued the White House talking point of “We Can’t Wait” when it comes to stalled Congressional action on education. Together with the president, he announced that waivers to the No Child Left Behind Act would be granted to ten different states. These waivers are another blatant attempt by the Obama administration to centralize more authority in education while giving the appearance of flexibility and helpfulness to the states. They set a dangerous precedent for future administrations and seriously impair the system of federalism that governs our democratic system.
What do the waivers do? States are allowed to opt out of the onerous No Child Left Behind Act requirements through the 2013-14 school year. The catch though is that they must implement a series of reforms that have been determined solely by bureaucrats in the Department of Education, not the elected representatives of the people in Congress. These reforms have been vaguely defined and include everything from teacher evaluations and lifting the cap on charter schools to administering career and college ready Common Core Standards. The last component is quite troubling as the Department of Education’s original charter explicitly states that it is not allowed to be involved in the creation or determination of national standards or a curriculum in any way. Secretary Duncan argues that a section of the NCLB Act gives him this authority despite serious legal concerns from education policy stakeholders across the country. Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute connected the action to the political culture where Obama and Duncan came from:
Rather, in the classic Chicago style, the attitude seems to be that if the administration wants to do it, that’s good enough–whatever the statutory or Constitutional complexities, and regardless of whether this is all likely to turn out as intended.
While some of the reforms that the administration wants to see implemented are necessary to improve the nation’s school system, they have no place being tied to a federal waiver. Secretary Duncan’s attempt at centralizing more authority does not respect the rule of law nor is it an effective method at bringing about true reform. Policies that promote more parental choice in education are getting incredible results without burdensome regulations coming from Washington. Illinois should drop out of the second round of the waiver process and call for reform of No Child Left Behind by the people’s elected representatives in Congress. Respecting the proper constitutional course of action will lead to common sense proposals that give state and local governments true flexibility in reforming their education systems.