Are the winds of educational freedom blowing towards Congress?

By Karen Effrem

With the rise of TEA party movement and general voter anger at the overspending and the strangling control the federal government into more and more aspects of our lives, it was quite encouraging to read a lengthy analysis on EducationNews.org of where federal education policy is headed that included an interview of Congressman John Kline (R-MN2).

Rep. Kline is currently the ranking Republican on the US House Education and Workforce Committee. If the currently predicted Republican landslide in the US House occurs in the November midterm election, then he could well be chairman of that all-important committee and will be very influential in federal education policy. This would include how No Child Left Behind (NCLB) will be reauthorized and what will happen with the Race to the Top initiative started by the Obama administration after passage of the stimulus bill. Here are some excerpts from his remarks.

National Standards: EdWatch has warned since July of 2009 about the dangers of the Common Core Standards initiative as an effort to impose radical national/international standards on the states that will do nothing to improve student academic achievement. (Legislative testimony is available here.) The Obama administration‘s blueprint for the reauthorization of NCLB even called for tying the receipt of federal Title I money to acceptance of these Common Core Standards. Rep. Kline opposes that concept:
For instance, Rep. Kline casts a wary eye on the federal role in championing the Common Core State Standards Initiative. That effort, which resulted in the creation of reading and mathematics standards that so far have been adopted by nearly 40 states, was state-led, through the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

Rep. Kline has no problem with, for instance, Minnesota and Wisconsin getting together and coming up with their own set of more-rigorous academic standards. But the federal incentives for adopting the common-core standards make him—and many of his fellow House Republicans—uneasy, he said. [Emphasis added]

States that competed for a slice of the $4 billion in federal Race to the Top grants got extra points for their participation in the common-standards venture. And, in his blueprint for an ESEA renewal, Secretary Duncan proposed tying the Title I grants given to districts to help disadvantaged students to states’ adoption of either the common-core standards or to college- and career-readiness standards developed with state institutions of higher education.

“We’re watching this very closely,” Rep. Kline said of the standards push. “If we are, in fact, putting in a de facto national curriculum, my caucus will rebel. I’m very leery when [the action] shifts over to the U.S. Department of Education providing either rewards or punishment” for adopting certain standards. “That’s dangerous,” he said.
National Tests: Rep. Kline had similar views when discussing national tests promoted by both the Common Core Standards initiative and the Race to the Top program.
Rep. Kline also has qualms about the administration’s $350 million program aimed at helping states craft common assessments, funded with Race to the Top money. He wants to ensure that it doesn’t lead to Education Department involvement in creating the tests.
Continuing the Race to the Top: Fortunately there seems to be little enthusiasm among Republicans for this.
The Obama administration also asked for $1.35 billion in the fiscal 2011 budget to continue the Race to the Top program for an additional year and extend grant eligibility from states to school districts; Rep. Kline said he wouldn’t support that plan. He thinks the program was too rigid and imposed federal policy preferences on states.

“This is the U.S. Department of Education putting [out its] view of what needs to be done. ... It’s not the states deciding. It’s not local control,” he said.
Stimulus Money to Stabilize State Education Budgets: Rep. Kline and the Republicans uniformly opposed the stimulus bill.
The former Marine colonel and helicopter pilot said he wouldn’t be likely to support the provision of more money to help steady state and district finances, since he doesn’t think the $100 billion provided for education under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the 2009 stimulus law, helped the economy.
US Senate: The article also mentioned two Republican US Senate candidates, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Joe Miller of Alaska who have called for the abolition of the US Department of Education. Given that academic achievement, freedom, and state sovereignty have done nothing but suffer since its creation during the Carter administration, lots of support would certainly exist for that idea.

As the campaign continues, please encourage candidates for Congress that understand how important it is to dismantle the federal leviathan in education, that there is no proper role for the federal government in education in the US Constitution, and that the power to set education policy must be returned to where it belongs, to the states and to the people.

Karen Effrem is director of government relations for EdWatch.