What Can a President Do to Address Common Core?

President Barack Obama signs S. 1177, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), during a bill a signing ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)
President Barack Obama signs S. 1177, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), during a bill a signing ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

It has been pointed out after the most recent GOP presidential debate that a President can’t repeal the Common Core State Standards.

I agree, ironically a federal mandate to end the Common Core in the states would be just as unconstitutional as the involvement by the Obama administration’s back door funding approach via Race to the Top. There is no legitimate federal role in education beyond addressing civil rights violations in the public schools when necessary and only when necessary, I wouldn’t consider the feds interjecting themselves into locker room and restroom policy as necessary, but I digress. That’s a topic for a different time and┬áa different website.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution does not list education as an enumerated power of Congress. Our founders intended that education remain a local and state matter. That was always the case until Congress passed and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. President Jimmy Carter further expanded the federal involvement in education by forming the U.S. Department of Education in 1979. Yes, there was a Department of Education that was created in 1867, but it was downgraded to an office in 1868 and education was never a federal priority until the Johnson Administration.

I expect candidates whether they are presidential, Congressional or Senatorial to understand this. If they do not they get checked off my list pretty quickly.

So in the vein, what can a President do? Here are eight ideas.

1. Eliminate the U.S. Department of Education

I understand that this suggestion is a radical one for educrats who love centralized education. Show me what child the Department of Education has taught? Also how has K-12 public education improved under their watch? I think it’s fair to say it hasn’t. Kids somehow, magically, were educated long before there was a federal department of education. We sent a man to the moon 10 years before the department’s formation!

Politically speaking I understand this is a huge ask and it would require a ton of political capital, and perhaps a willingness to not be reelected. It would also require legislators willing to do the same.

2. Downgrade the U.S. Department of Education

Recognizing political reality at the moment an incremental step would be an attempt to downgrade the Department of Education and no longer have a Secretary of Education that serve’s on the President’s cabinet, but instead just have an appointed director instead. Again, this would require an act of Congress, but it would probably be an easier ask than eliminating the department in one swoop.

3. Reduce the size of the U.S. Department of Education

This is something the President can do through his or her budget proposal. Cut, not just slow the increase in spending, but cut the Department’s budget and cut the bureaucracy that exists within the department. Force programs to demonstrate results to justify their existence. Direct the Secretary (or Director) to implement zero-based budgeting (actually do that government-wide, but I digress again). Exercise the Presidential authority to line-item veto sections of the budget passed by Congress that increases spending.

4. Veto any bill that would expand the scope and reach of the Department of Education.

Simple enough – don’t allow the Department to grow in size or in oversight. This is the bare minimum for a candidate who says he or she believes in local control.

5. Eliminate any carrot and stick competitive grant program, and block grant all federal funds to the states.

If there has to be federal education dollars, the Department should act as a pass-through for those dollars to the states with little to no strings attached other than they be used for education, but let states decide how those dollars are used in education according to the original purpose stated in federal law. Work to reduce the regulation to dollar ratio we’ve see where schools receive relatively few federal dollars, but are ransacked by federal regulations. Cut through the regulations, and whatever the President can legally do through executive order he or she must do.

Also do not allow the funding of specific education trends or assessments.

6. Work to repeal the Every Student Succeeds Act

Advocate for the sunset of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in its current form, the Every Student Succeeds Act. The passing of this bill did not eliminate Common Core, in many ways it codified it through the law’s frequent mention of “college and career-ready standards,” as well as, other provisions of the law. The President should instruct the Secretary that they should give a lot of latitude when approving state plans until the law with it’s testing mandate is gone.

7. Insist on ending the student data-hungry culture in the U.S. Department of Education

Champion the tightening of FERPA by Congress. Eliminate by executive order any rule changes that weakened the law. Eliminate offices within the Department that pushed for increased student data collection. Work to eliminate any law or rule that requires data collection by the Department or requires states to collect data for the department.

8. Pick the right Secretary of Education

This goes without saying. It should be someone willing to work themselves out of a job. The candidate should value decentralized education over centralized education. That person should share and complement the President’s goals.

Those are some ideas starters, what else would you recommend?

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