Education Waiver Would Spell Entanglement for Alabama

Alabama is considering requesting a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to relieve the state of some of the burdensome requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But the waivers represent a troubling pact with Washington: To get relief from federal mandates, Alabama must agree to more federal intervention. It’s a bad deal.

Alabama is seeking a waiver in large part to avoid having to comply with the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirement in NCLB (a federal mandate requiring 100 percent student proficiency in math and reading/language arts). Under NCLB, schools that fail to make AYP are subject to “cascading sanctions” ranging from implementing a school improvement plan to a complete school restructuring.

Those sanctions are tough indeed, and illustrate the extent to which Washington intervention in local school policy has grown.

In order to be granted a waiver, however, Alabama must agree to the Obama Administration’s preferred education policies—essentially, what the White House believes is best for Alabama students. One of the chief concerns is that instead of pursuing reforms that Alabama board of education members, taxpayers, and parents believe are in the best interest of students, a conditions-based NCLB waiver means Alabama must further entangle itself in the push for national standards.

A better plan for Alabama—and the rest of the country—would be to decline the NCLB waiver and instead work to improve education on its own terms, while demanding genuine relief from Washington through a complete opt-out from the law that would restore education authority to the state where it belongs.

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During the 2008-09 school year (the most recent year for which data is available), Alabama taxpayers spent $7.2 million on education. That total includes local revenue ($2.3 million), state revenue ($4.2 million), and federal revenue ($778,000).

The federal government is just a 10.7 percent stakeholder in Alabama’s education funding, yet it would gain a tremendous amount of additional control over education if an NCLB waiver is pursued and granted.

Alabama should reject the NCLB waiver bait and demand a complete opt-out of the law. At the same time, state leaders should pursue robust school choice options for families. That would do far more to improve education in The Yellowhammer State than ceding control to Washington bureaucrats ever could.

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