President Obama’s reelection with no change of leadership in the House and Senate means he and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will maintain current policies: multiple federal grants for favored initiatives and increased control over state and local education.
“[Obama] has shifted the federal role in many ways,” said Jon Schnur, cofounder of America Achieves and New Leaders for New Schools. He noted the administration’s waivers of No Child Left Behind, the largest federal education law, “doubled down” federal education spending, and significant changes to teacher evaluations and charter school laws states had to make to receive a federal Race to the Top grant.
In November, voters in South Dakota and Idaho overwhelmingly overturned state laws tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, a link the Obama administration prioritized.
Waivers Displace Congress
Although NCLB has been due for reauthorization since 2007, the president in his victory speech promised to focus on immigration and energy and a country in fiscal disarray, meaning the law will likely remain lapsed. In its place will remain the patchwork system of waivers granted to 34 states and pursued by seven more.
“The waiver process did not just grant flexibility to states but set forth a whole host of conditions states had to subscribe to [that] have no basis in the law,” said Martin West, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who advised Mitt Romney.
The massive amount of paperwork and monitoring those waivers and $4.15 billion in Race to the Top grants will require means the U.S. Department of Education will have little energy for new initiatives, American Enterprise Institute education director Rick Hess wrote on his blog.
Entitlements Limit Education
“The size of the deficit, the GOP majority in the House, the need to deal with Pell [Grants], the impending costs of the Affordable Care Act, and the rest mean that there won’t be big new dollars for education initiatives, no matter how often the president says nice things about edu-investment and workforce initiatives,” Hess wrote`.
Federal debt has now surpassed U.S. gross domestic product, the total of goods and services its citizens produce in a year. The debt equals approximately $51,000 per U.S. citizen, including schoolchildren. During the campaign, Obama reiterated his support for current federal programs, such as Pell Grant subsidies for college students, and touted proposals to increase education spending.
U.S. education spending has doubled in real dollars in the past 40 years. The national teacher-student ratio is 1 to 15. Forty years ago, it was 1 to 22.
Suspicious of Choice
Mitt Romney sparked nationwide conversations with his proposal to send federal education funding with students to any school their parents choose to have them attend. Obama’s win means the federal government will support only government school options.
“The president has been a big champion of parent choice in public education” but opposes vouchers because parents might use them to send children to private schools, Schnur said.
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