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Education Secretary Arne Duncan responded to Rep. John Kline’s demand for proof of Duncan’s legislative authority to offer waivers to No Child Left Behind provisions with a lukewarm letter ignoring Kline’s central requests: the criteria for deciding waivers and a timeline for offering and implementing them.
Congress is hardly blameless in this instance, having legislatively ceded power to unelected administrators and agencies. NCLB itself does give the Secretary power to grant waivers; yet here it looks like he’s taken the inch and made it a mile.
Montana and Idaho have publicly announced they will ignore NCLB mandates this year, given Congress’s four-year delay in reauthorizing and thus loosening the widely hated bill. The interesting mix here is between a revival of federalism and a resurgence of scofflaws. It seems Duncan and the rebelling states are acting less out of principle than of simple annoyance at admittedly ham-handed federal regulations. Rather than a grand resurgence of American tradition, the states and the feds appear to engage in the pettiness of teen angst and parental overreaction.
As I mentioned earlier, rule by unpredictable fiat undermines the rule of law essential to a free and prosperous society. This assurance is critical to ensuring equity and stability in any country. Congress should have preempted this with sensible education policy, but Duncan has just indicated he won’t be the sensible one, either.