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Obama Circumvents Congress on Education Policy

For the past few decades, the federal government has continuously increased its power over local schools, through funding with strings-attached, with depressing results. Since the 1970's federal spending on education has nearly tripled, yet student achievement has remained flat and graduation rates have not improved. However, that increased spending has had a major impact on the amount of red tape, paperwork and administrative costs imposed on local schools and teachers, taking valuable time away from their core mission-educating children.

While federal policymakers are busy spending billions to make matters worse for public schools, they're also busy preventing students from having better choices, at the behest of powerful teachers unions. While charter, parochial and private schools offer better results and graduation results, President Obama and his allies are trying to prevent children from enrolling in them through cost-effective aid for school choice that measurably puts them on a path of success.

In many cases, Washington lawmakers who themselves enjoyed school choice opportunities as children are seizing that same opportunity from inner-city kids--as they attempted to do with the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program--in order to place those children back into failing and often dangerous public schools with the odds stacked against them.

(Watch Let Me Rise HERE - a 30 minute Documentary featuring Juan Williams and produced by The Heritage Foundation highlighting the fight for school choice in our nation's capital.)

This bleak picture of federal involvement in education should cause President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to step back and reevaluate the entire method of federal education involvement. But instead, on Friday, Obama doubled down, and did so by circumventing Congress and rewriting the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law unilaterally in the White House.

In the Rose Garden, Obama announced one of the biggest education developments in a decade, unveiling an NCLB waiver program where states can get out of the onerous federal requirements so long as they meet President Obama's own requirements. States would be trading one set of federal standards, approved by Congress, for another set, approved by unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington.

So yes, they may provide some temporary relief from the onerous provisions of NCLB, but in exchange for new long-term handcuffs.

All sides agree that No Child Left Behind is not working as it was intended. But while liberals argue for more money and more federal control, conservatives are offering real reform that will save taxpayer dollars, improve results and give students more opportunities. Conservative lawmakers have introduced the A-PLUS Act that would allow states to completely opt out of NCLB, and other alternative measures that would restore education decision-making to state and local leaders.

But rather than work through the legislative system, Obama is ignoring it. Heritage expert Lindsey Burke explains:
The Obama administration is unhappy that Congress has not yet reauthorized No Child Left Behind (President Obama wanted the law reauthorized before the start of this school year), so he is dangling waivers in front of states thirsting for relief in exchange for their agreement to adopt the administration's preferred education reforms, including national standards and tests. And because of the conditions, the temporary relief states get from the waivers will be quickly followed by an increase in Washington's power over state educational decisions.

Secretary Duncan recently said: "[T]here's a level of dysfunction in Congress that's paralyzing." But many presidents have had to work with a divided government, and didn't choose to unilaterally re-write laws when they grew frustrated.

President Obama isn't a victim of congressional paralysis on education policy, as his Race to the Top funding passed through his "stimulus bill" unfortunately demonstrates. Race to the Top was yet another federal overreach into education where applying states hard pressed to compete for more Washington handouts, that they had to adopt national standards for math and English language arts before the standards had even been crafted. (Watch a video on Race to the Top and the dangers of national standards HERE)

There is no excuse for this latest Obama fiat. Facing high unemployment and a dragging economy, federal education decisions are doing more harm than good.

Former Education Secretary William Bennett told Meet the Press yesterday: "[I]f you've completed college, the unemployment rate is about 5 percent. If you've finished high school, your unemployment rate is about 9 percent. If you haven't finished high school, the unemployment rate's about 15 percent."

Forcing children into underperforming schools with low graduation rates where federal dictates have no record of success, rather than considering real reforms has a long-term negative effect on our economy. Considering Obama's consistent promises to lower, rather than raise, the unemployment rate, you would think he would be open to better ideas.

This week NBC celebrates "Education Nation" where they will feature experts discussing these issues. But all too often media guests and panels evaluate how to better spend federal dollars rather than having a serious discussion about the actual role of the federal government, and what opportunities Washington and unions deprive children.

Let's hope the conversation in the media focuses on results and opportunities and not just the platitudes of low expectations. The White House must be held accountable for its latest unilateral overreach, and the poor results of its spending so far.

* See if your state gives parents the ability to choose a safe and effective school for their children by clicking HERE and using our interactive map. *

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