Keeping Utah schools shackled via the back door


Photo credit: Lee Honeycutt

As Congress continues to delay reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), many states, including Utah, are requesting waivers from parts of the federal law, and some states are being openly defiant about it. With all this waiver action, due to congressional inaction, prognostications for the future of NCLB are bleak.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called NCLB a “slow-motion train wreck,” and as Utah Superintendent Larry Shumway observed, “Pretty soon all the schools will be failing in America, and at that point the law becomes meaningless.” Shumway predicts: “States are going to sit and watch federal accountability implode. We’re seeing the end of an era.”

Is the era of federal accountability in public education really over?

Not so fast.

The Obama administration has decided to take matters into its own hands. Secretary Duncan recently announced that the Department of Education will provide an avenue for states to obtain more waivers from NCLB requirements, but, as always, there’s a hitch: Only states that “are willing to embrace education reform” will receive waivers. What Duncan is saying is, “No problem, we’ll give you reprieve from NCLB, just do whatever we say and everything will be fine.”

The Obama administration plans to use the states’ desperation as a means to enact its own federal education agenda without congressional approval. This backdoor approach to rewriting NCLB likely violates U.S. statute and the Constitution.

So, what are Utah’s options? (1) Reject the administration’s offer and prepare to face the consequences of failing to meet unrealistic NCLB requirements; (2) accept the offer and prepare for new federal regulations that could be “NCLB on steroids”; or (3) reject the offer and opt out of NCLB completely, reclaiming the autonomy of Utah’s public education system.

Opting out of federal education programs has always been an option. Utah nearly once had the courage to do it but, instead, again sold its schools for a mess of pottage.

[pullquote]Without constitutional authority to control public education, the feds are using federal funds to bribe the states into continued submission. [/pullquote]The pattern is clear: Without constitutional authority to control public education, the feds are using federal funds to bribe the states into continued submission. The more it carries on, the more burdensome and intrusive it is for Utah schools, teachers and students.

Let’s hope leaders in Utah see through the Obama administration’s façade of “relief” and have enough foresight and fortitude to reject federal intrusion into public education once and for all.

*Watch this short video to see how federal intervention affects local autonomy in public schools: