How No Child Left Behind May Force State’s Rights Battle and Give Pause to Republicans

With news today that Tennessee is considering seeking a No Child Left Behind waiver, word comes that the US Department of Education will seek to “enforce”  the law if it is not restructured by the current congress. A number of states have stated that they are opting out or seeking a waiver as may Tennessee.

To the states out there that plan to disregard the No Child Left Behind Act, the Education Department says this: Not so fast.

Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota so far have notified the department that they do not plan to follow the federal accountability law, and instead will use their own accountability systems. But that’s not going to fly, department officials say. If Congress does not rewrite the law, either Education Secretary Arne Duncan will enforce the existing law, which he has called “broken,” or he will allow states to earn waivers in “exchange for reform.” (That’s plan B.) There is no plan C.

Spokesman Justin Hamilton said this today when I asked him about the states that plan to disobey the law: “We all agree NCLB is broken, and the best way to fix it is for Congress to send a bipartisan bill for the President to sign by the start of the school year. If Congress needs more time, our plan B would be to offer relief in exchange for reform to states who desperately want flexibility from NCLB’s broken provisions. This will give all states the option of either complying with existing law, or participating in plan B. One way or another, we need to enforce the law or change it.”


If the federal government – through the Department of Education – seeks to impose its will  onto states over NCLB, we will really see something. The DOE would effectively be stating it has control over state’s public school systems. For conservatives and republicans alike, this could cause considerable conflict. Any call to suppress state’s rights makes any self-respecting tea party follower bristle. And to think it is many of these same folks who are outraged at Obamacare’s trashing of state’s rights.

Not Jeb Bush and his Chiefs for Change though. They’ve already said they want NCLB reauthorized. No word yet on whether or not Bush will field questions regarding this little state’s rights conundrum. Bush’s reform initiatives depend greatly on NCLB’s strict guidelines.

Just think of the titles of future legal battles:

The United States vs. (insert name) state of (pick one or more) Education Commissioner.

At any rate, there’s little doubt that we’re headed for a train wreck. With No Child Left Behind not yet reauthorized, and a consensus in congress not there for it in the first place, an end game is still to be witnessed. If state’s rights are thrown into the equation, a perfect storm of immeasurable proportions will be upon us with respect to the future of the nation’s education system.

Are we on the way to seeing the most important legal challenge involving the nation’s school since Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka?

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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