There are a lot of reasons to lament the rise of the administrative state. There’s the lack of accountability that comes from policy decisions being made by unelected bureaucrats. There are the cozy relationships that often form between regulators and those they regulate. There’s the avalanche of rules and regulations that make the law so vast as to be virtually unknowable. But one factor that’s become especially salient during the Obama years is the fact that administrative caprice undermines equality before the law. Case in point: the outbreak of waivers for favored clients of the Obama Administration.
While we’ve heard about this trend most often in regards to Obamacare, it’s also become a serious issue in education. As noted in Ezra Klein’s Wonkbook:
No Child Left Behind technically expired in 2007. But Congress didn’t manage to do anything about it. They just kept appropriating money for the zombie bill. And so the outdated provisions of this out-of-touch bill began strangling the education system.
NCLB says that fully 100 percent of school districts need to meet tough proficiency goals in reading and math in 2014 or they lose tons of money. It’s not going to happen. They’re not going to hit those targets and that’s been clear for years now. Everyone knows NCLB needs an overhaul. But, you know, Congress.
So the Obama administration has started waiving NCLB for states that propose sufficiently rigorous alternative plans. So far, 39 states and the District of Columbia have been let out of No Child Left Behind. On Wednesday, they were joined by eight individual school districts in California — Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco and Sanger. That’s the first time that’s ever happened.
“This is a pretty troubling development,” Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, told The Post. “The states have always traditionally been in control of accountability for most school districts. . . . The idea that the secretary of education is controlling the accountability system in eight districts in California is kind of mind-boggling.”
Of course, the Obama administration says, with some justification, that it would’ve been even more troubling to leave the million kids in these districts in the grips of a law that no longer makes any sense.
Luckily, we have a mechanism for amending or repealing laws that don’t make sense: it’s called Congress. If you can’t get a fix through, too bad. You don’t get to change the rules when you don’t like the outcome.
The Obama Administration shouldn’t be in a position to determine “sufficiently rigorous alternative plans” and favor some states over others. That’s a legislative judgment that needs to be worked out on Capitol Hill. And even that, frankly, is too much. Ideally, education should be managed exclusively at the state and local level. The bowels of the federal administrative state, however, are the last place from which control should be emanating.