Newly confirmed Secretary of Education John King came to Capitol Hill this week to testify in our Appropriations budget hearing. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, and specifically the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the U.S. Department of Education budget, this hearing provided me a good opportunity to press the secretary to make sure he and his staff adhere to the new education law that forbids federal coercion on state education policy.
You may remember that late last year Congress passed and the president signed a new education law to finally replace the problematic “No Child Left Behind.” The nation’s new education law returns the decision-making back to state and local governments where it belongs. The Wall Street Journal calls the new law “the largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.”
I’m proud to say the nation’s new education law also contains a provision I introduced and championed that strictly prohibits the Secretary of Education or his agents from using funding grants or special regulation waivers to influence state education policy. For too long, the U.S. Department of Education has exercised undue influence over education policy decisions that are made at the state and local level. The department developed the bad habit of making valuable funding grants or coveted regulation waivers contingent on whether or not a state adopted its “pet” policies. Not only did this behavior flout the appropriate role of the federal government, it also worked to corrode trust in public education at the state and local level.
Count me among those who believe states should set high standards and adopt a rigorous curriculum designed to help students build the skills they need to succeed. While collaboration can add value in policymaking, heavy-handed coercion from the federal government in the process is unwelcome and inherently dubious. Parents, teachers and administrators are rightfully wary about having state education policy dictated by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., who have never set foot in an Alabama classroom.
Now that kind of federal coercion is against the law, and at this week’s Appropriations hearing, I wanted to make sure Secretary King is committed to following that law.
Old habits die hard, I told him. It isn’t hard to imagine federal bureaucrats ignoring the new law and continuing with business as usual. I was pleased to hear Secretary King say and reiterate that he and his staff will do “exactly” what the law requires.
Knowing that policymakers often must determine the “intent of Congress,” I made clear to Secretary King that, as the Member of Congress who introduced and championed this provision of law, the intention is to stop once and for all the inappropriate federal coercion in state education decisions.
I appreciate Secretary King appearing before our committee and committing to enforcing the new law. It is important that he and others at the Department of Education know that Congress is watching and that we are serious about returning education control back to states and local governments.
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Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband, Riley, and their two children.