Schools need more freedom, less meddling from the feds

A new school year has reinvigorated Washington’s debate on the best way to improve education in America. There is widespread agreement that the status quo is not working, and lasting reforms are vital to the future prosperity of our children.

This fall, the House of Representatives is expected to consider proposals to roll back federal intrusion in classrooms, eliminate wasteful education spending, improve accountability, support more effective teachers and provide more flexibility to state and local education leaders.

Legislation to expand quality education opportunities for students passed the House in mid-September with strong bipartisan support. Unfortunately, these efforts may soon be derailed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s plan to grant waivers in exchange for education reforms advocated by the Obama administration.

While I share the secretary’s sense of urgency, his proposal could mean less transparency, more regulations and greater uncertainty for students, teachers, and state and local officials.

The move also raises legal questions. While Duncan, as secretary of education, has the authority to issue waivers of any statutory or regulatory requirement to state educational agencies and school districts, there is little precedent for tying waivers to reforms not authorized by Congress.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service recently stated that, if challenged, a reviewing court could deem a conditional waiver “arbitrary and capricious or in excess of the agency’s statutory authority.”

Rather than force states to adopt policies that reflect the priorities of Washington bureaucrats, House Republicans are working to give more control to the state and local education officials who best understand the unique needs of their students. Anyone who has talked to a superintendent or teacher understands that federal intervention can stand in the way of exciting solutions and meaningful reform.

Past trends of layering program upon program, requirement on top of requirement, and good intention upon good intention have created an education system so burdened by top-down regulations that it is no surprise student achievement levels have stagnated. It is time for a new way forward.

My colleagues and I are determined to enact long-term reforms that will reduce regulatory burdens and grant state and local leaders the flexibility they need to best serve students.

No Child Left Behind was developed through careful deliberation and compromise, with the central goal of supporting a brighter future for all students. However, we have learned there are significant areas for improvement, and thoughtful reauthorization of the law is critical.

Advancing a controversial waivers plan will not only hamper efforts to chart a new course, but will prolong the failed policies of the past. I urge the secretary to set his agenda aside and work with us to enact lasting reforms to improve the nation’s education system. We owe it to our children to get this right.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., is chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

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