Obama Grants 'No Child' Waivers, Partisan War Rages On

Republicans say waiver process shows Obama thinks separation of powers is “tiresome.”

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The latest skirmish in Washington over what to do with No Child Child Left Behind-the overreaching, out-of-date federal education law-occurred Thursday as the Obama administration allowed 10 states to opt out of the law's requirements.

In September, Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced states that agreed to certain reforms could opt out from the law, which requires schools to hit increasing testing benchmarks in math and reading each year. The law has been up for reauthorization for five years, but lawmakers have been unable to agree on a compromise.

[2011 Policy Progress Report: No Child Left Behind]

The administration announced Thursday it had granted waivers to Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. An application from New Mexico is still pending. Obama said Thursday that 39 states have shown interest in a waiver, and further applications are expected to roll in.

"This is good news for our kids. It's good news for our country," Obama said. "I'm confident that we're going to see even more states come forward in the months ahead."

Meanwhile, top Republican lawmakers cry foul.

John Kline, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce evoked Washington Post columnist George Will Thursday, saying that Obama's waiver process shows the president "finds the separation of powers tiresome."

"Rather than work with us to get it changed, [Duncan] and the president decided to issue waivers in exchange for states adopting policies that he wants them to have," he said. "These states are granted waivers because they've made changes that [Duncan] wanted made, not changes that we put into law."

Duncan told reporters Thursday that the waiver process was intended to do "quite the opposite" of forcing states to make specific changes.

[New NCLB Legislation Faces Uphill Battle]

"The beauty of this is that they are locally-developed plans," he said. Each state submitted a different application based on the state's needs. In New Jersey, high schools with low graduation rates have to improve or face state action, while Oklahoma is monitoring school culture and attendance rates.

Each state granted a waiver agreed to three specific reform criteria: Adopting the Common Core Standards—essentially standardized curricula for specific classes, holding schools accountable for improving student performance (particularly for minority and disabled students) and establishing a system to evaluate teachers.

Kline said that's unacceptable—states should be allowed to set their own standards.

"What I don't want is those decisions to be made by Washington—either dictated in law by us, or by the Secretary of Education," he said.

Kline released a bill late last year that would revamp No Child Left Behind, giving states more flexibility, but it has been unable to garner bipartisan support. Duncan said America's students can't wait any longer for Congress to act.

"I'd like to applaud these states that said they can't wait any longer, that their students can't wait," he said. "Every year, one million young people leave our schools for the streets … this is all morally unacceptable. Our economy can't sustain this. We must get better and we must get better faster, and these states are at the front of the pack."


Twitter: @jason_koebler