In late February, the Student Success Act, a rewrite of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), was pulled from consideration on the House floor. Conservatives had voiced thoughtful concerns that the policies contained within the rewrite fell short of truly empowering state and local leaders, and as such, represented a missed opportunity.
Conservatives weren’t confused about the proposal and didn’t fall prey to “misconceptions,” as some have charged. In fact, conservatives were anything but confused about the proposal, which, at 620 pages, spent nearly as much as No Child Left Behind and failed to provide states an option to opt-out of NCLB.
Some in Congress claimed that the proposal would have given states the option to opt out. It did not. A state—as has always been the case with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently reauthorized as NCLB)—could choose not to participate, but would forfeit its federal funding in so doing. That federal funding, of course, didn’t come out of thin air; state taxpayers were made to send it to Washington to fund the many ineffective and duplicative programs authorized under NCLB.
So the Student Success Act allowed states to opt out of NCLB the same way the IRS allows you to “opt out” of paying your taxes—it doesn’t—at least not without federal repercussions.
The APLUS approach, championed by conservatives, would actually give states the option to opt out of NCLB entirely—no strings attached. Unfortunately, procedural measures limited debate on policies that have long been priorities for conservatives. Representatives Ron DeSantis (R–FL) and Mark Walker (R–NC) offered APLUS as an amendment to the Student Success Act when it passed out of committee, but the amendment was not made in order, so there was never the opportunity for an open discussion on the option.
States that believe that NCLB—or the Student Success Act—works well for them could choose to stay in. Those that do not could opt out under APLUS. The point is that states—and local leaders in particular—know far better what works well for their local communities and should be able to direct dollars and policy as they see fit. They shouldn’t have to beg Washington to get their taxpayer dollars back. Nor should they have to sift through and apply for funding through myriad programs—some 80 under NCLB—to comply with federal Department of Education mandates and report back to Washington in order to access their funds.
In addition to failing to give states the opportunity to opt out of NCLB, the Student Success Act also failed to allow for portability of Title I funds to private schools of choice and maintained federal mandates defining testing policy for states, requiring states to test students on an annual basis in grades three through eight and in high school. Although testing is an important diagnostic tool for schools, the way in which states and districts choose to establish assessment calendars should not be dictated by Washington.
Conservatives are not confused about what the Student Success Act does and does not do. They’ve perhaps never been more clear and informed than right now.