Martha Roby: Patience pays off in defending state authority over education

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Progress takes patience sometimes, I suppose. Two-and-a-half years ago, I introduced the “Defending State Authority Over Education Act” to stop once and for all the inappropriate federal coercion of states into adopting the Obama Administration’s “pet” policies, standards or curricula, including Common Core.

I strongly support local control of education, and I said then my true goal was to build support for getting my “State Authority” language included in the overall rewrite of the badly-flawed “No Child Left Behind” law, which Congress has been working on for years.

Initially we had success in the House, but the Democratic Senate wouldn’t touch it. With a change in Senate leadership after the last election, this year looked much more promising. We kept pushing and, this week, I’m pleased to confirm the good news: at long last, the final bill replacing “No Child Left Behind” does include our “State Authority” language strictly prohibiting the federal Department of Education from using funding grants, rule waivers or other means to coerce states or local boards in education decisions. This is a big win for parents, teachers, administrators and anyone who has been frustrated by the federal intrusion in education policy.

The “Every Student Succeeds Act” replaces the nation’s current law with policies that reflect a more conservative, state-driven approach to education. The bill:

  • Places new, unprecedented restrictions on the U.S. Secretary of Education, including my “State Authority” language prohibiting the Secretary and his agents from using money and rule waivers to coerce policy decisions;
  • Eliminates the “Adequate Yearly Progress,” or “AYP” metric and return the responsibility for proficiency systems to the states where they belong;
  • Eliminates or consolidates 49 ineffective, duplicative, and unnecessary programs, replacing them with the simple grants that providing states and school districts with more flexibility;
  • Supports the start-up, replication and expansion of high-quality public charter schools, which Alabama can now access to support its recently-enacted charter school program.

Of course, I would prefer that the bill go much further in severing ties between federal and state governments in education, and voted to support amendments doing just that. However, it would be foolish to sacrifice all the many good, important gains made in this bill simply because it doesn’t have everything I want.

The Wall Street Journal calls this bill “the largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.” As someone who has long fought for a more conservative approach, that’s exciting.

Yes, it took a lot of time and effort to build support for this idea. But, I’m proud to have kept fighting despite initial setbacks. And, I’ll be even prouder when our  “Defending State Authority” language is finally part of the nation’s new, conservative education law.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband, Riley and their two children.

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