Politics & Policy

The GOP’s Corrupt Obamacore Bargain

(Syda Productions/Dreamstime)

The success of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz this year is a great and anguished shout from Republicans voters to the powers-that-be in Washington: The system is broken; it’s not working for us.

If you want to know why Republicans voters hate their party in Washington, pay close attention to what massive GOP majorities in the House and the Senate just did: Extend and give new life to the failed No Child Left Behind Act.

They did it the way Washington politicians do such things, by renaming it — No Child Left Behind is now called the Every Student Succeeds Act — and rigging the game so it would pass. The lengthy bill was posted only two days before legislators voted on it, ensuring that few of them would have time to read it and that the American people would have no time to weigh in. The army of highly paid lobbyists had already secured their pieces of the action, during months of what are described as intense negotiations.

Washington education experts such as AEI’s Frederick Hess tentatively endorsed the deal as the best that could be gotten with divided government, which raises an obvious question: Why did Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell decide to pass the first major education reform since 2002 less than a year before America chooses a new president? A Brookings scholar chimed in on the great conservative victory in an article titled, “Finally Taking Yes for an Answer: The Overdue Reform of NCLB”:

Mercifully, it appears that the all-or-nothing way of thinking is on the wane in the early days of the Paul Ryan speakership. Only 64 members of the House voted against ESSA, about half of whom are members of the House Freedom Caucus. And just twelve senators voted no. The vast majority, including the great majority of Republicans, decided that half a loaf was much better than none.

Mercifully to whom? Surely not to America’s parents, already bruised and battered by the insiders’ Common Core deal, which transformed their children’s education without their consent, and now kept out of the loop so Democrats and Republicans could once again trade horses.

Ryan and McConnell did the deal the way conservatives in Washington so often do them — seeking “victories” they can use to placate the base while leaving unchanged the fundamental power dynamics that give Washington’s progressive insiders the power to tell every school district in America that girls must shower with biological males or lose federal funding. We cower, and seek the smallest gains, and trumpet them as great successes, and get taken for a ride as the Washington bureaucracy steadily extends its control over the hearts and minds of American schoolchildren.

‘American parents are not fooled by this charade — nor will they forget who was responsible.’

If it’s such a great deal for conservatives, why did every architect of the Common Core debacle endorse it? Why did every Democrat vote for it?

Cruz recognizes as much. The deal “unfortunately continues to propagate the large and ever-growing role of the federal government in our education system — the same federal government that sold us failed top-down standards like Common Core,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

“Republicans should have listened to the more than 200 pro-Constitution, anti–Common Core grassroots groups that laid out in detail their objections to this bill and practically begged their ‘conservative’ elected officials to pay attention,” says my colleague Emmett McGroarty, one of the major grass-roots leaders who have turned Common Core moms into a force to be reckoned with. “Instead, all but 64 members of the House and 12 senators ignored their knowledgeable constituents and did the bidding of the White House and the Republican leadership.”

“American parents are not fooled by this charade — nor will they forget who was responsible,” he warns.

#share#The most extraordinary thing about the bill, according to McGroarty, is that is actually gives broad new direct powers to the education secretary to regulate state standards for the first time in American history:

ESSA makes a critical change to NCLB’s requirements for standards in the state plan.

As a requirement of the Act, states must “demonstrate” to the Secretary that they have adopted standards that are aligned to the same definition of “college and career” standards used to force states into adopting Common Core under NCLB waivers. Under ESSA, the Secretary won’t have to use waivers to force a particular set of standards — the statute itself dictates the alignment. The requirement for the alignment of standards to this definition makes prohibitions against the Secretary meaningless.

Sec. 1111(b)(1)(D)(i): IN GENERAL — Each State shall demonstrate that the challenging State academic standards are aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education in the State and relevant State career and technical education standards.

Note that the first part of the provision above is the same as (2) in the US Dept. of Ed’s definition of “college-and-career-ready” standards.

If the Department of Education judges that the state has not demonstrated this alignment, it can disapprove the state plan.

In other words, Arne Duncan will not need to manipulate waivers to exert pressure on states to adopt Common Core, because the new Republican-backed statute explicitly gives him that authority.

#related#The one feature of NCLB that liberals hated most — teacher accountability — was taken out of the new law. The one feature school-choice advocates wanted added — portability of funding — was not added in. The law asserts new federal control over pre-school education for the Department of Education. And it institutionalizes federal control over curriculum standards.

Why? Why? Why?

Why do that deal?

— Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project. She blogs at MaggieGallagher.com.

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