Oklahoma: Losing Federal Waiver, Winning Back Rightful Control over Education

By this school year all American students were supposed to be proficient in reading and math according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the latest iteration of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). By 2011 it was clear that no state was even close, so the US Department of Education made states an offer far too many thought they couldn’t refuse: in exchange for waivers from federal NCLB/ESEA proficiency and other mandates, states had to agree to adopt “college- and career-ready standards,” aka Common Core. (See also here and here).

Of the 46 states (including the District of Columbia) that have applied for waivers from federal NCLB/ESEA mandates, 43 have been approved as of August 21 according to the US Department of Education’s website.

That number’s likely to start plunging as the feds revoke more states’ waivers in response (or retaliation) to their decision to dump the “voluntary” Common Core national standards and other federal education mandates.

Washington lost its waiver in April because it did not tie student achievement results to teacher evaluations. Kansas was put on notice last year that it is at high risk of losing its waiver, too, for failing to meet teacher evaluation mandates.

Thus far, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, have rejected Common Core. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is suing the feds over Common Core now, arguing that federal control over education will cause “irreparable harm.

In May, the US Department of Education responded to Indiana’s decision to dump Common Core and implement its own state standards instead with a letter threatening to revoke the state’s waiver and related funding. However, the feds granted Indiana a one-year extension.

Oklahoma wasn’t so fortunate because it stood up to the feds with one of the strongest anti-Common Core laws on the books for expressly banning any aligning of its tests with national standards.

Yesterday, Oklahoma education officials received a letter from the US Department of Education revoking its waiver altogether, meaning it must start complying with all NCLB/ESEA mandates this year. According to Politico:

The move marks the latest battle between states and the Obama administration over what has been perceived to be heavy-handed federal education policy that will continue for the next few years. …

“It is outrageous that President [Barack] Obama and Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate how Oklahoma schools spend education dollars,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement. “Because of overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma parents and voters to Common Core, Washington is now acting to punish us. This is one more example of an out-of-control presidency that places a politicized Washington agenda over the well-being of Oklahoma students.”

Some $20 to $30 million in federal education funding intended to help some of Oklahoma’s poorest schools will now have a lot more strings attached to them, but at least one state lawmaker says that’s a small price to pay for regaining rightful authority over education, as Oklahoma Watch’s Nate Robson reports:

Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, who helped draft the bill repealing Common Core, downplayed the impact Thursday.

Nelson said diverting federal funds for tutoring or transportation is a small price to pay to protect Oklahoma’s education standards from the federal government.

Nelson added that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has admitted No Child Left Behind has failed as a law, which is why waivers were granted.

He added throwing Oklahoma back under broken standards will not make Oklahoma students better, and is instead meant to punish the state.

“Because (the U.S. Department of Education) is upset that we’re trying to take back control of our education system, they have taken a punitive action that ought to make it crystal clear we made the right decision,” Nelson said.

It’s likely more state citizens and lawmakers will reach a similar conclusion as the federal government’s unconstitutional overreach into education continues.

Vicki E. Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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