Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has introduced legislation to curb the U.S. Department of Education’s regulatory power, which, he contends, has grown out of control under President Obama.
His Senate Bill 2451, also known as the Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act, would return education decision-making to state and local officials.
The federal bureaucracy overseeing the nation’s schools has been in the crosshairs of conservative Republicans since it was created in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter. In his 1980 election campaign, President Ronald Reagan promised to abolish the agency, but once elected, was unable to deliver. The department’s tentacles over the education policies of the 50 states have grown ever since.
Unable to kill the agency, Inhofe is hoping he can rein it in. He said the federal government’s controversial push for states to implement the Common Core curriculum standards is only one of many reasons he authored the bill.
“Our education system has grown to operate as if Washington knows best, but this approach has failed our nation’s children and silenced the most important voices in the room – parents, teachers and local leaders,” Inhofe said in a statement released June 11.
“Children’s education needs are unique to each city and state. … My bill will give state and local school boards the necessary flexibility to achieve their education goals by reining in federal regulations and giving local communities a voice as to how those regulations are impacting their education pursuits.”
The bill would prohibit the secretary of education from issuing federal regulations, rules, guidance materials, grant conditions or other requirements that “conflict with the power and authority” of local and state educational agencies and which are not fully funded by the federal government.
Senate Bill 2451 is already drawing attention from school board members across the country seeking relief from federal dictates.
“National standards, national assessments, school nutrition regulations … it is all a federal overreach at the expense of local school districts and the children they serve,” Kathleen Angelucci, chairwoman of the Cobb County Board of Education in suburban Atlanta, told WND. “The continued assault on local control is a systemic and chronic issue that is shaking the very foundation and ideals that this country was founded on.”
As a member of a school board that’s responsible for Georgia’s second-largest school system, Angelucci said she welcomes Inhofe’s bill and hopes it gains traction among his colleagues in the Senate.
Oklahoma last week followed Indiana and South Carolina in rejecting Common Core, although some activists have noted that Indiana’s new standards appear to be almost identical to Common Core minus the tarnished brand name. The DOE didn’t create the Common Core standards, but it adopted them and then offered millions in federal stimulus dollars to any state that agreed to implement them. Strings were attached, including requirements to implement a longitudinal data-collection system that tracks students from kindergarten to college. Much of the data is personal in nature.
But Inhofe’s communications director, Donelle Harder, said Common Core-related rules are not the only onerous and invasive regulations to come out of Obama’s Department of Education.
“It’s not just Common Core,” she said. “One of the senator’s main concerns has been how this administration over-regulates everything. The types of regulations we’re seeing coming out of the Department of Education don’t even fit the needs of some school districts, nor do they take into consideration the cost of implementation. So this legislation is a response to everything [Obama] has been doing in Oklahoma and the nation.”
Harder said that Inhofe’s office has received many complaints from school board members, school administrators and parents about the need to rein in the federal bureaucrats, not just in the DOE but in other agencies as well.
“He’s used numerous unchecked regulations to skirt Congress and still get what he wants through his agencies,” Harder said of Obama.
WND contacted the U.S. Department of Education Thursday for a reaction to Inhofe’s proposed legislation, and a press officer said she would find out if DOE Secretary Arne Duncan had any response. She did not respond to a follow-up email later in the day again seeking a response.
Inhofe told the Tulsa World newspaper that he introduced the bill “so school boards would have a voice in things like the (Common) Core and other scary things that have been going on.”
Harder said the legislation has support from the National School Boards Association. She said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has signed on as a co-sponsor.
While the bill would seem to have little chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Harder said it is nonetheless “serious legislation.”
She said even if it doesn’t pass this year, the bill helps keep the issue of over-regulation “in the public eye.”
Inhofe has made similar proposals to curb the Environmental Protection Agency that have delayed regulations affecting farmers,” Harder said.
“His big target has been the EPA, but this legislation is a response to what has been going on in Oklahoma and the complaints he’s been hearing from people across the state about the Department of Education.”