Education Policy is a Local Issue


By Rep Scott Garret

In an apparent attempt to roll back federal mandates included in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, the Obama administration recently announced that it will issue waivers to states to shield them from proficiency requirements included in the law and provide them with the authority to set their own achievement standards.

For those who oppose the burdens placed on our schools by the federal government, the Obama administration's announcement should be considered a win. Unfortunately, as is often the case with federal policy coming out of Washington, all that glitters is not gold. Only after digging deeper into the fine print of the Obama administration's latest round of education policy does the real picture come into focus.

It turns out the Obama administration is dumping one set of federal proficiency standards for another. Rather than adopting a new approach to education reform, the Obama administration is doubling down on the same failed policies of its predecessor. I disagreed with former President George W. Bush when he first tried this approach and I disagree with Obama today.

Instead, I believe that those closest to the students, the individuals who understand their needs the best and are directly responsible for their well-being, should have the authority to set their own standards.

That is why I have introduced the Local Education Authority Returns Now (LEARN) Act. The LEARN Act would allow states to opt out of NCLB rules entirely and retain the dollars that would have been sent to Washington by reimbursing the taxpayers through a tax credit. The process is simple, straightforward and truly empowers states, teachers and parents to determine how to best meet the needs of their students.

The LEARN Act would work in three steps. First, a state decides that the strings attached to federal money are hampering the ability of its parents and teachers to educate its children as they see fit and enacts a law opting out of NCLB. Second, the Treasury Department determines how much money an opt-out state is entitled to. Finally, the taxpayers of the opt-out state receive a tax credit to reimburse them for the funds that were diverted to Washington. This method immediately cuts the authoritative and financial strings of the federal government so that state and local governments can set their own educational standards while ensuring maximum parental involvement.

Unlike my bill, which actually addresses the failure of NCLB, the president's proposal further empowers Washington bureaucrats to control the classroom. The waivers the president has advertised are a prime example of this. Instead of actually providing states the authority to set their own standards, there are strings attached -- certain conditions and requirements that must be met to qualify for a waiver. Under his new system, states would qualify for a waiver only after agreeing to embrace Obama's education agenda. In particular, only those states that adopt new academic standards the administration deems "college and career ready" will be relieved from the 2014 deadline on student proficiency standards included in NCLB.

NCLB set a precedent for attempts to centralize education control within the federal government. One has to wonder, what happened to the state legislators? What happened to the countless township school boards and local elected officials? All across the nation, parents, teachers and administrators -- the people closest to and most directly responsible for the students --have been shut out of the process.

It is imperative that we abandon this centralized philosophy altogether rather than simply replacing misguided policies with worse ones. The future of our nation depends on our ability to educate and train the generations that will one day carry on the legacy of freedom and prosperity. We are failing at this task because states are focused on conforming to federal regulations rather than cultivating a competitive atmosphere where states are challenging each other to best educate our students.

Our education system will not improve until we remove Washington bureaucrats from the equation. It's time to return to the system our founders envisioned; it's time to return education policy back to the local communities; it's time to start putting our children first.