Betsy DeVos Now Criticized for Giving Too Much Flexibility to States

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos can’t make anyone happy. I’ve highlighted how the U.S. Department of Education was criticized (rightly) for being nitpicky toward state accountability plans.

Now the Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), accused her of approving plans that flaunt federal law.

Education Week reports:

Addressing Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, Murray said, “If the department is today ignoring the agreement we made in the law and just choosing to implement whatever it feels like—which I believe they are in their approval of state plans so far—then this committee needs to hear from the secretary directly about how she intends to follow the laws that Congress agrees to.”

This isn’t a brand-new criticism from Murray, but rather a somewhat fleshed-out version of a previous complaint.

In a confirmation hearing for several Education Department nominees earlier this month, Murray made a general allusion to this concern. On Tuesday, Murray was a little more specific in her concerns about ESSA plans and how the law handles school improvement. But she didn’t single out the state or states she was worried about.

First, these remarks by Murray demonstrate that ESSA never gave true local control back to states. How stringently the law is enforced will depend on the administration. It is clear Murray expected there to be clear boundaries for states to stay within. Again, I say, that’s not local control

Secondly, if Murray has a concern, she should spell it out. Name names. It’s difficult to address or refute a challenge that is hopelessly vague. If she is going to make comments like these, she needs to bring up specifics – specific plans and the particular text in the law that plan violates.

Third, the only way for Congress to avoid political games like these is to repeal ESSA and genuinely devolve control of education policymaking back to the states. While states have to continue to ask “Mother, may I?” with the U.S. Department of Education they do not have control.