USDOE Rediscovers Federalism

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Last month, as detailed here, the U.S. Department of Education rejected Delaware’s ESSA plan for being insufficiently “ambitious.” You see, Delaware was merely attempting to do something that no state had ever accomplished before.

The administration’s actions flew in the face of their frequently stated commitment to federalism. Now, however, it seems they have reversed course:

After some serious drama, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Tuesday gave Delaware the green light for its Every Student Succeeds Act plan.

You read that right. Delaware, aka the state whose Feedback Shook the World, is the first state to get the all-clear to proceed on ESSA.

What drama are we talking about? Here’s some quick background: DeVos had been hitting the local control theme hard in speeches since taking office. But her team’s response to the submitted plan from Delaware, one of the first states to get ESSA plan feedback from the Trump education department, seemed out of line with that rhetoric.

The department questioned the ambitiousness of the First State’s student achievement goals and criticized the state for wanting to use Advanced Placement tests to gauge college and career readiness. (The department said this was a no-go because the tests and courses aren’t available in every school.)

That got many important people pretty upset, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Senate education chairman and an ESSA architectChris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, also said he was disappointed. Both said that DeVos’ team had essentially overstepped the bounds of the law.

In a press release, Secretary DeVos noted that she believed Delaware’s plan “adhered to the law” but she stopped short of recommitting her department to the principle of federalism:

“Delaware has always been a state of firsts, so it should be no surprise that theirs was both the first state plan submitted and the first approved under ESSA,” said Secretary DeVos.

“My criteria for approval is clear: does the state’s plan adhere to the law? Delaware demonstrated their plan does, and so I am happy to approve it. I hope it will give the students, families and educators in the state a strong foundation for a great education.

“Throughout the process, Delaware’s leaders have been terrific partners. I want to thank Gov. Carney, Secretary of Education Bunting and State Board President Loftus for their work and collaboration on putting forth a plan that embraces ESSA’s spirit of flexibility and creative thinking.”

All in all, this is a positive development. Nevertheless, this episode should serve to remind education reformers that even an administration that talks the federalist talk doesn’t necessarily always walk the walk. Those who respect subsidiarity and value local control — especially those who understand that the most local form of control is in the hands of parents — have good reason to be wary about giving the feds any power.

One Response to USDOE Rediscovers Federalism

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Reagan speaking behind the Iron Curtain: “A bird on a tether, no matter how long the rope, can always be pulled back.”

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