Obama Says He's Exempting States from Education Law Without Congressional Authorization

September 23, 2011 - 4:07 PM
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FILE: President Barack Obama Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011, (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama said Friday he is not going to wait any longer for Congress to change the No Child Left Behind education law, he is doing it on his own without congressional authorization.

“I’ve urged Congress for a while now, let’s get a bipartisan effort, let’s fix this,” Obama said. “Congress hasn’t been able to do it. So I will. Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting.”

The president announced that his administration would provide waivers to states from the current law to allow them to be more innovative at the local level--flanked by educators, students, Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, Rhode Island Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a White House event.

The assertion that he would not wait for Congress comes amid a trend of the administration ignoring Congress. The Justice Department called for all deportation cases of illegal aliens be viewed on a case-by-case basis, which critics have called “backdoor amnesty.”

The Justice Department also declined to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court. Further, members of Congress from both parties criticized Obama for sending military forces for regime change in Libya, charging he violated the War Powers Act by not seeking the approval of Congress.

Granting such waivers could present legal challenges, according to the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan research arm of Congress.

“On the other hand, if the Secretary did, as a condition of granting a waiver, require a grantee to take another action not currently required under the ESEA, the likelihood of a successful legal challenge might increase, particularly if ED failed to sufficiently justify its rationale for imposing such conditions,” the June 28, 20011 CRS report says.

“Under such circumstances, a reviewing court could deem the conditional waiver to be arbitrary and capricious or in excess of the agency’s statutory authority. Ultimately, the resolution of such a question would probably depend on the facts of a given case.”

The waivers are subject to certain conditions, such as enacting standards to prepare students for college and careers and setting evaluation standards for teachers and principals.

“Money alone is not enough,” Obama said. “We also need reform. We’ve got to make sure that every classroom is a place of high expectations and high performance -- and that’s been our vision since taking office. That’s why instead of just pouring money into the system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top and to all 50 states -- to governors, to schools districts -- we said, show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement; we’ll show you the money.”

The No Child Left Behind law, which was passed Congress in 2001 with bipartisan support, seeks to hold schools and teachers more accountable for student performance. But a leading criticism is that it the law caused schools to teach students to perform on a standardized test to prevent the school from being labeled a failure. Duncan has warned that 82 percent of schools next year could fail without a change in the law.

“I want to say the goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable, and President Bush deserves credit for that,” Obama said.

“Higher standards are the right goal,” he said. “Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal. And we’ve got to stay focused on those goals. But experience has taught us that, in its implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them.”

“Now, it is an undeniable fact that countries who out-educate us today are going to out-compete us tomorrow,” Obama said. “Today, our kids trail too many other countries in math, in science, in reading and that’s true, by the way, not just in inner-city schools, not just among poor kids; even among what are considered our better-off suburban schools we’re lagging behind where we need to be. Today, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t finishing high school. We have fallen to 16th in the proportion of young people with a college degree, even though we know that 60 percent of new jobs in the coming decade will require more than a high school diploma.”

The House is expected to consider legislation this fall to roll back federal involvement in local school districts, said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), the chairman of the House Education Committee, in an op-ed in The Washington Examiner.

“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,” Kline wrote. “… 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.”