President Obama granted 10 states (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee) waivers from the federal government's No Child Left Behind law today. The action will temporarily prevent schools in each states from suffering federal sanctions for not meeting reading and math standards by 2014.
Any time the federal government decreases its role in education should be a good thing. But that is not what Obama is doing. The Heritage Foundation's Lindsey Burke reports:
These are not simply waivers to provide relief to states from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind. These are conditions-based waivers, and the strings attached to this “relief” further tether states to Washington.
One of the most concerning conditions attached to the waivers is a requirement that states adopt common standards and tests or have their state university approve their standards. None of the waiver-approved states opted for the latter. The administration’s various carrots and sticks ($4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants and potential Title I dollars) had already pushed them to begin implementing the Common Core national standards and tests.
When national organizations and the Department of Education dictate standards and tests, they effectively control what can—and can’t--be taught in local schools. The degree to which these critical decisions are about to be centralized and nationalized is unprecedented in America.
Even worse, nothing in federal law grants Obama the power to issue these conditional waivers. He is unilaterally rewriting federal education policy through selective enforcement. The American Enterprise Institute's Frederick Hess tells the Christian Science Monitor: "NCLB, for all its flaws, was crafted by the US Congress … [but] these waivers impose a a raft of new federal requirements that were never endorsed by the legislative branch. Once this administration opens this door, it’s hard to imagine future administrations not building on this precedent."
And last year The Brookings Institution wrote:
It is one thing for an administration to grant waivers to states to respond to unrealistic conditions on the ground or to allow experimentation and innovation. ... The NCLB waiver authority does not grant the secretary of education the right to impose any conditions he considers appropriate on states seeking waivers, nor is there any history of such a wholesale executive branch rewrite of federal law through use of the waiver authority.
Considering how epically unpopular Obamacare is, this whole sale abuse of a waiver process to fundamentally rewrite federal policy may not be the precedent Obama wants to set.