On Education, Obama Governs by Waiver
“In my State of the Union address this year, I said that Congress should reform the No Child Left Behind law based on the principles that have guided Race to the Top,” President Obama announced Friday. “Congress hasn’t been able to do it. So I will. … Given that Congress cannot act, I am acting.”
But by what authority?
The 2001 NCLB law was arguably the worst example of “compassionate conservatism” to come out of the Bush White House. With Sen. Ted Kennedy’s blessing, it doubled Department of Education funding and extended federal interference in state education policy to an unprecedented degree. The law has only gotten more unpopular as school districts have been forced to comply with its metastasizing mandates.
But instead of freeing schools from these burdens, Obama has simply substituted his own set of educational priorities for the Bush-Kennedy ones. Under the Orwellian banner of “more flexibility,” Obama announced Friday that he will allow states to petition his Education Department for waivers from the noxious NCLB mandates. But he will only grant those waivers if they first adopt Obama’s mandates. In effect, Obama has just passed a new education law without Congress.
This has become a well-worn page in Obama’s policy playbook. Obamacare’s Medicaid mandates are even more invasive than the NCLB ones, and even the bluest states are finding the Health and Human Services’ waiver process less than “flexible.” Illinois, for example, recently tried to decrease fraud in its Medicaid system by requiring applicants to provide a full month’s worth of pay stubs to satisfy eligibility requirements. The Obama HHS denied the waiver request. claiming the new eligibility requirement was too restrictive.
Education and health care may not be the first sectors of the economy you think of when asked to identify the most important sectors of the U.S. economy but, as Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz detail in a recent National Affairs article “The New Commanding Heights,” these sectors are where most job growth has occurred over the past two decades.
Kling and Schulz recount that in 1922, Vladimir Lenin told his Bolshevik followers not to fear what remained of free market activity in the Soviet Union. For the government, Lenin said, would always retain control over the economy’s “commanding heights.” For the early Soviet Union, those “commanding heights” were manufacturing, energy and transportation. For the U.S. today they are education and health care, two areas in which Obama is solidifying state control.
Take the program Obama says he is basing his NCLB rewrite on: Race to the Top. It used $4.3 billion of stimulus cash as a slush fund to bribe states into adopting a slew of Obama-approved education policies. Forty-one states took the bait, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and administrative man hours begging federal bureaucrats for money. (Louisiana’s application alone was 260 pages, with a 417-page appendix.) And in the end, Obama rewarded only those states that gave in to the teachers’ unions by letting them approve the systems by which teachers are evaluated.