Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, complained in his op/ed in The Washington Post about the Obama Administration’s use of waivers in circumventing the law. He wrote:
The Obama administration is increasingly becoming known not for its legislative achievements but for its federal waivers to legislative achievements. It has exempted favored groups from immigration laws, welfare-reform work requirements, even provisions of the Affordable Care Act (more than 1,300 businesses and unions have been given a reprieve from health-care coverage rules).
The boldest use of the waiver power, however, has come on the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). More than half of the states have been granted exemptions from the law’s requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. When a law’s provisions are ignored in a majority of cases, it can properly be considered overturned.
I agree with this complaint though I am no fan of No Child Left Behind. It is unconstitutional, Congress needed to repeal it. The President just can’t unilaterally ignore it.
Here is where he lost me:
The only problem: Education is a massive failure of federalism. By the second half of the 20th century, America’s public schools were betraying many of the students in their charge, including the overwhelming majority of poor and minority students. In 2000, 5 percent of African American fourth-graders and 7 percent of their Hispanic peers were assessed proficient in math. Some students were left in dropout factories where teachers and administrators routinely blamed parents for their own overwhelmed incompetence. Other students were sabotaged by shoddy educational standards that left much of a generation unequal to global competition.
It is true that highly centralized governmental systems can be arrogant and mediocre. Public education demonstrates that a highly decentralized governmental system can also be arrogant and mediocre, particularly when parents are denied objective information about educational outcomes. (emphasis mine)
Is education really a failure of federalism? I would argue the opposite. The quality of education decreased the more states and the federal government got involved. You can blame public education’s failure on many things, and he’s on the right track in his comment about parents, but federalism isn’t one of them.