Alexander: Congress Should “Do its Job” and Reauthorize K-12 Education Law, Let Education Secretary “Step Back from Waivers, and Let States Make Their Own Decisions”

Says Administration’s No Child Left Behind waiver process is “like Washington’s version of ‘Mother, May I?’”

Washington, D.C., February 7 – At a hearing today of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Ranking Member U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Congress should “go back to work this year” on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and “let the Secretary step back from waivers and let the states make their own decisions about whether students are teachers are succeeding or failing.”

Alexander said the administration’s process for granting states waivers from the requirements of No Child Left Behind has “become a sort of Washington version of the old game children used to play called ‘Mother, May I?,” saying: “This waiver authority is a pretty simple authority…but what’s happened is the Secretary’s use of his waiver authority has gone much broader than that…This is an example where the state might say, ‘mother, may I create a teacher-evaluation system?’ And instead of saying yes or no, the Secretary says, ‘You may, but only if you wash your hands and practice the piano and do your homework and clean up the kitchen and rake the yard.’ You might say, ‘Well, mother that’s not what I asked to do,’ and mother might say, ‘Well that’s what you have to do if you want to go out and play.’ And so what happens is this simple waiver authority has turned into a conditional waiver, with the Secretary having more authority to make decisions that in my view should be made locally by state and local authorities.”

Alexander continued: “The problem is that more and more decisions are being made in Washington about whether schools are succeeding or failing, when in fact the Secretary and I and Senator Harkin pretty well agreed on nine principles last year that would have basically moved most of those decisions out of Washington. So we’ve gone, in my view, in the wrong direction.

“The correct thing for us to do is for the Secretary to show restraint on a one-size-fits-all set of waivers and step back and just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in a much simpler way, giving more allowance. Even better, we should do our job in the Congress working with the House, take Rep. George Miller’s advice when he said, ‘Mr. Chairman, we ought to have a lean bill,’ and see if we can go back to work this year and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and put into law whatever needs to be put into law and let the Secretary step back from the waivers and let the states make their own decisions about whether students and teachers are succeeding or failing.”

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