Politics & Policy

The Alexander-Murray Education Bill

Last week I wrote a column explaining how centralized American education policy has gotten.

Congress hasn’t reauthorized the main federal programs for primary and secondary schools since Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002. That law was written on the assumption that Congress would revisit education policy well before now. Since the law has instead continued on auto-pilot, most schools are now technically failing its standard of 100 percent proficiency and thus are subject to penalties.

The Department of Education has filled the vacuum. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has given states waivers from these penalties in return for their adoption of policies he favors — including the Common Core standards that many conservative activists abhor.

House Republicans are pushing a “Student Success Act” that would take this power away from the executive branch. Now Senators Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D., Wash.), the top Republican and Democrat on the relevant Senate committee, have introduced a bill that would do the same thing. The Senate bill seems to have somewhat tougher language barring federal involvement in Common Core, although I think the practical effects of both the House and Senate bills would be about the same.

In that same column, I argued that conservatives should stand for the principle that federal aid for poor students should follow that student: If their parents choose a charter, private, or parochial school, that school should get that student’s share of federal education funding. The House bill achieves that goal in part: It includes funding portability among public and charter schools, but excludes private and parochial ones. The Senate bill, unfortunately, lacks any portability provision. If both chambers pass the bill, though, perhaps some form of portability will be part of a compromise between them.

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