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Perspective: Federal agency intrudes on education

Like many of you, I have been increasingly frustrated by federal agencies that are determined to circumvent the elected representatives of the American people in Congress and instead impose their will on Americans through rules and regulations. But nothing upsets me more than a federal agency that seeks to impose its will through the power of its purse strings on our children.

So, you can imagine my reaction when it came to my attention that the U.S. Department of Education is using the expiration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to implement major changes to our education system without the approval or knowledge of Congress. These changes include the collection of federal student data and federal disbursement of funds.

While I believe that education policy is best made at the local level, since the 1960s, Congress has authorized and allocated funding for public K-12 education through the ESEA. This law has been the primary vehicle in which Congress implements education policy and reform. Yet, instead of working with Congress to reauthorize the law, the U.S. Department of Education moved forward with an education policy reform known as Common Core.

In 2009, forty-six governors signed memoranda of understanding with the National Governors Association committing their states to the development and adoption of new education standards within three years.

As I understand it, states had the option of adopting Common Core standards or creating their own equivalent standards.

At the time, Common Core standards consisted of nothing more than the idea that states would collaborate to create uniform education standards. Details about Common Core were not only unknown to the states, they did not exist. From there, the department offered grants and waivers to states under the condition that each state would implement “college and career ready” standards. The only “college and career ready” standards with the department’s approval were Common Core.

In other words, the Education Department was stacking the deck by seeking to coerce and incentivize states into adopting Common Core.

In one example, Common Core standards will replace state-based standardized testing with nationally-based standardized testing, the creation and initial implementation of which will be funded in full by the federal government. The long-term, annual administering of the exams, the cost of which has not been specified, is to be funded by the states.

The Education Department also is involved in some troubling practices when it comes to personal student information and how the federal government collects and distributes such information.

In 2011, the Education Department circumvented Congress by altering definitions within the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — the law that guarantees parental access to student education records and limits their disclosure to third parties. It also has come to my attention that in order for states to receive the aforementioned grants, they were required to implement a new federal system used to track students by obtaining personally identifiable information. The states need to learn to quit falling for the carrot and stick approach used by the federal government and just say no to the money!

The actions to circumvent Congress with Common Core and changes to student privacy policy are unacceptable. Earlier this week I sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan requesting that the department explain its actions and make a good faith effort to work with Congress when changing education standards.

While I would prefer education policy to be set at the state and local level, Congress has an obligation to serve as a check and balance against the federal Department of Education as it tries to unilaterally implement these initiatives without input from the elected representatives of the American people.

Since states opted into Common Core, relief from these misguided standards must come from the state level. To that end, I have been in touch with state officials and have offered to be of any assistance. Though we are limited on the federal level, there may be some opportunities to prohibit funding for Common Core during the appropriations process. Be assured that I will continue monitoring this situation very closely.

Nothing is more important than the education of our children and it should not be up to federal agencies to act unilaterally without input from those of us who represent families across our great nation.

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., represents the 3rd District, which includes Jefferson City. His local office call be reached at 573-635-7232.

Web link:

luetkemeyer.house.gov

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