A few high profile Republican U.S. Senators introduced S. 182, Learning Opportunities Created at the Local (LOCAL) Level Act, on January 16th, which would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (EASA) to prohibit federal education mandates. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.imgres

Sponsored by Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) and co-sponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ohio’s Rob Portman, S. 182 seeks to preserve state and local control of schools by prohibiting the federal government from using mandates, grants, waivers, and incentives to coerce states into adopting education standards, curricula, or inteferring in a state’s assessment systems.

Roberts said in his press release,

“Setting high standards for our schools, our teachers and our children is the right thing to do, but those standards should be decided in Kansas, without bribes or mandates from Washington.  We need to get the federal government out of the classroom, and return community decisions back to where they belong – in the community.”

Portman said in his press release,

“Decisions about education curriculum should be made at the local or state level – not from Washington.  Having a one-size-fits-all Washington approach to education is harmful to our children and to our education system. We should allow states and local communities the flexibility to innovate and make their own education decisions. The federal government does have a key supporting role to play in improving our workforce, and I have led efforts to streamline and improve our worker retraining programs while giving states additional flexibility.”

The Common Core Standards were thrust upon the states through the Race to the Top grants included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Cash-strapped states and local school districts flocked to the grants as a way to secure extra education dollars giving up local control of schools in the process.

What states and school districts did not account for were the onerous mandates in the RTT grants which led to the significant investment of local dollars to rewrite curriculum, retrain teachers, adopt new assessment regimes, and upgrade systems to track and share private student data.  See “Common Core Isn’t Free:  How Much Has Your School District Spent?”

Local school districts are still grappling with how to implement and manage the myriad of mandates in the RTT grants. And parents are left marginalized and concerned by the loss of local control, the increase in standardized testing, and the loss of student privacy.

The LOCAL Level Act recognizes that federal education grants and mandates can put significant operational and financial pressure on school districts.

In his press release, Senator Inhofe outlines the bill’s objectives which include,

“…the Secretary of Education should only issue those regulations, rules, guidance materials, grant conditions, or other requirements that are specifically needed to implement federal legislation and are within LEAs’ educational, operational, and financial capacity.” (Emphasis added.)

Efforts to oppose the federal manipulation of states’ educational systems have been alive in the U.S. Senate for several years.

  • In April 2013, shortly after the RNC issued a resolution opposing the Common Core Standards, Grassley sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds education asking that language be included in the 2014 appropriations bill to prohibit the Secretary of Education to use funds to develop education standards or to award grants and make other conditions to coerce states into accepting standards or assessments. Eight senators joined Grassley in that effort: Mike Lee, Tom Coburn, James, Inhofe, Deb Fischer, Rand Paul, Pat Roberts, Jeff Sessions, and Ted Cruz.
  • In February 2014, Senator Lindsey Graham sponsored a resolution which denounced the Obama administration’s use of grants and waivers to coerce states into accepting Common Core. Chuck Grassley, Tim Scott, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, James Inhofe, Thad Cochran, Roger Wicker, and Mike Enzi joined as co-sponsors.

Perhaps more traction can be made on reining in the federal government on matters related to education now that Republicans are in control of the House and Senate.

However, with many Republicans on board with Common Core, such as our own Governor John Kasich, and Republican power-broker, former Florida Governor and presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, the jury is still out on where the Republican Party stands on local control of schools.