Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appeared to talk about of both sides of her mouth when she addressed the Council of Chief State School Officers Legislative Council.
DeVos cited the flexibility of the Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) while, at the same time, complained about the state plans she has approved just met the “bare minimum.”
She made some encouraging remarks at first:
“We won’t weaponize waivers to compel you to adopt this administration’s politics. If we wanted to dictate from D.C., I’d claim the mantle of our nation’s “choice chief” and reject plans because they don’t give parents more quality choices. But I haven’t done that. And I won’t. The Department is not the national school board,” DeVos said. “This administration is committed to our Nation’s founding idea of separation of powers. The Department of Education doesn’t write laws, it implements them.”
She then went off the rails.
“ESSA was enacted partially in response to the widespread calls from state school chiefs – including many in this room — to give you the flexibility and opportunity to address your state’s unique challenges. Well, this law gives you that chance,” she said.
What? No, it doesn’t. In fact, it locked in many of the reforms implemented during President Obama’s administration.
Under the guise of “tough love” she chastised the school chiefs:
DeVos said she did not see much evidence that states have yet seized the supposed flexibility that ESSA provides in the state plans the Department has approved thus far.
“Some have said that they didn’t write their plans ‘to win an ESSA competition.’ Other plans look as though they were just written to get good grades from D.C. interest groups. Still other plans seem like they were written only for one purpose: compliance,” DeVos said. “Let me be clear: just because a plan complies with the law doesn’t mean it does what’s best for students.”
“Whatever the reasons, I see too many plans that only meet the bare minimum required by the law. Sure, they may pass muster around conference tables in Washington, but the bare minimum won’t pass muster around kitchen tables. And I’m not alone in this view,” she added.
When states still have to come to the U.S. Department of Education and say, “Mother, may I?” That is not flexibility, that is not local control, and that is still federal overreach.