Unpacking the Push for Education Waivers
Here's DFER's take:
A number of education interest groups are lobbying the Obama Administration to fast track waiver requests for various elements of federal education law, particularly the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2002 (ESEA) and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The insider term right now is "regulatory relief," an approach that has proved to be such a big success in areas like banking, insurance, and oil rig inspection.
In all seriousness, while we do not unconditionally oppose the idea of flexibility for states and districts, we have several serious concerns about both the proposed process and substance of such requests.
Process. The Administration has proposed reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2011, for which Congress has expressed strong interest. Both the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate HELP Committee have held numerous public hearings on these issues. Discussions between key members of both parties, in both chambers, have been taking place for the better part of a year.
We have serious concerns about making piecemeal changes via administrative waivers to laws that determine how billions of dollars in federal education funding are spent on behalf of poor and minority children, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. The waiver process would be conducted through administrative negotiations that are much more opaque and much less open to public scrutiny than the regular order of legislative business. Moreover, many of the claims that there are urgent needs for changes to these laws are either overstated or misinformed. Here are several of the most critical and glaring examples.