What can we expect for education policy during President Obama’s second term? From No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers to school choice, education policy will surely heat up in the coming months.
No Child Left Behind Waivers. NCLB’s blunt attempt to drive accountability from Washington has resulted in many schools being labeled “failing” while little is done to improve results. The Obama Administration, however, has chosen to circumvent Congress to provide an alternative to the largest education law.
The White House has offered waivers from selected provisions of NCLB to states that agree to adopt Administration-approved education policies. This has created a bad precedent that provides neither long-term relief for states nor a solution to the underlying problem with NCLB: an accountability system directed toward bureaucrats, not parents.
Reauthorization of the 600-page law is unlikely, but absent reauthorization, the law remains in effect. It’s unclear how Education Secretary Arne Duncan will enforce NCLB in states that did not receive a waiver. The waivers have created a two-tiered system in which half of the country must abide by the law while the other half, willing to embrace new executive branch regulations, now operates functionally outside of the law and by a different set of rules.
Conservatives should cut through the fog of confusion and come out boldly in support of genuine alternatives to NCLB, such as the A-PLUS proposal. A-PLUS would allow states to opt out from NCLB’s many prescriptive programs and direct education funding to their most pressing education priorities.
Common Core national standards. In the past, the Obama Administration has intimated that it would consider tying Title I dollars for low-income school districts to the adoption of national standards and tests. While it’s unlikely we’ll see such a brazen federal incentive to adopt the standards, we’ll likely see the continuation of policies that tie federal funding to the adoption of “standards that are common to a significant number of states.”
While the Obama Administration has been heavily incentivizing their adoption—and 46 states have capitulated—there is still time to hit the brakes on this latest and perhaps greatest Washington overreach into education. With Republicans at the helm of 30 states, debate about the direction of education policy should increase. Newly elected governors should go bold and put the brakes on Common Core standards.
Race to the Top, federal education programs, and spending. Based on President Obama’s “blueprint” for education and his fiscal year 2013 budget request, we can expect the Administration to continue its push to increase federal intervention and spending on education. We’ll likely hear louder calls for federal funding to “save” education jobs, despite the fact that nationally, the student–teacher ratio is at a historic low, the number of teachers in America’s schools is at a historic high, and the number of non-teaching staff positions equals that of actual teaching positions.
Federal funding to pay for education positions is problematic on many fronts. Paying teachers and school staffs is a state and local responsibility. Federal funding would also prevent school districts from making necessary long-term reforms and incentivize districts to retain “last-in, first-out” policies, use across-the-board pay raises, and fund an administratively bloated system.
In addition to federal pay for education employees, the Administration will likely call for increased spending on other federal education programs that are duplicative or of little value to children. Race to the Top, the more than 60 competitive grant programs under NCLB, and Head Start come to mind.
For nearly half a century, the proliferation of federal education programs and spending has failed to improve student outcomes. Increasing their number and funding will produce more of the same lackluster results while further burdening taxpayers.
D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) funding battles. The Obama Administration has been hostile to the DCOSP, a school choice program that provides vouchers to low-income children in the nation’s capital. Despite signing (at the urging of House Speaker John Boehner [R–OH] and Senator Joe Lieberman [I–CT]) a five-year reauthorization of the program last year, President Obama has attempted to zero-out funding, placing the future of the DCOSP in question.
School choice proponents will now have to work on an annual basis to ensure the program’s survival. They won’t stop fighting for school choice in D.C. and for the educational opportunity of thousands of children in the President’s backyard.
Much is at stake moving forward, not the least of which is preventing further federal intervention into the nation’s classrooms.
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