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Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray have announced that they’ve reached a compromise on reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. When a moderate Republican and a not-so-moderate Democrat cooperate on legislation, there’s reason to be nervous, but in this case there may be a silver lining among the clouds.
First the bad news. The reauthorization, under the name of “The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” maintains testing requirements, and requires state standards that prevent more local control of education. Tests are required to be the same in every school in the state, and any plans submitted by the states for how to structure their education programs must be reviewed and approved by a panel representing a wide cross-section of states, rather than letting each state determine its own policies.
All of this is anathema to the advocates of local control of education, but all the way down in Title IX of the bill is some language that conservatives can get behind. It’s the section dealing with Common Core education standards, and the ability of the Secretary of Education to bully states into doing his bidding through the threat of withholding funds. The bill says, in section 9527,
Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government, through grants, contracts, or other cooperative agreements (including as a condition of any waiver provided under section 9401) to—
(A) mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction, instructional content, specific academic standards or assessments, or allocation of State or local resources, or mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act;
(B) incentivize a State, local educational agency, or school to adopt any specific instructional content, academic standards, academic assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction, including by providing any priority, preference, or special consideration during the application process for any grant, contract, or cooperative agreement that is based on the adoption of any specific instructional content, academic standards, academic assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction; or
(C) make financial support available in a manner that is conditioned upon a State, local educational agency, or school’s adoption of any specific instructional content, academic standards, academic assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction (such as the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative, any other standards common to a significant number of States, or any specific assessment, instructional content, or curriculum aligned to such standards).
This language is functionally identical to that of Senator Pat Roberts’ standalone bill, The Local Level Act, for which FreedomWorks issued a letter of support earlier this year. This is important because until now, states have been unable to effectively repeal Common Core because of the Secretary of Education’s power to strip them of education funding. This bill would prevent that, and allow states to regain control of their own standards.
There’s a lot not to like about the Every Child Achieves Act, but the Common Core language, at least, is a victory for conservatives.