Chester Finn

The Unilateral repeal of NCLB and the 2012 Election

The Obama administration’s new waiver plan (officially here, and covered extensively here, here, and here– and elsewhere, I’m sure) doesn’t officially repeal the No Child Left Behind Act, but it istantamount to making large-scale amendments to it. Which it does unilaterally, without even a thumbs-up from Congress.

Though the specific conditions that the White House and Secretary Duncan are attaching to statewide “flexibility waivers” are consistent with the administration’s long-standing “blueprint” for reauthorizing NCLB, and also happen to be conditions that I think generally have merit, they amount to changing the law, not just waiving it. This raises constitutional as well as statutory issues — though the administration’s response, not surprisingly or implausibly, is that “if a do-nothing Congress won’t act to solve problems, we’ll solve them ourselves as best we can.”

Yet the changes themselves — at least their timing and high-profile release — are motivated at least as much by election-year political considerations as by policy. This is not the first example, and surely won’t be the last, of appealing to key constituencies by undoing, suspending, or waiving government practices that they find onerous and unpleasant. Consider the non-deportation of illegal aliens who haven’t committed crimes. Hispanic (and other immigrant) voters will surely applaud this move and likely thank the administration in November 2012.

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