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Beware of Feds Bearing Gifts

The future of education in Oklahoma has been hotly debated over the beginning weeks of our legislative session.  I think that debate is good and healthy.  The future of our state will be impacted directly by the decisions we make that effect the education of our children.

Buried in President Obama’s now infamous economic stimulus package was an innocent sounding program called “Race to the Top” (RTTT).  RTTT is your typical federal government “carrot-and-stick” program.  RTTT is intended to entice states into adopting Common Core State Standards.  Common Core is in essence the beginning of the establishment of a national curriculum for all k-12 public schools.  

Some key pieces of legislation were passed by the Oklahoma legislature last session involved education reform.  Many of these reforms were intended to make it possible for Oklahoma to qualify for funding under the Department of Education’s RTTT program. 

RTTT requires that states make progress in areas such as; establishing performance standards; developing data systems to measure student performance; teacher incentive pay; turning around underperforming schools.  I am sure that we all agree that progress in each of these areas would help improve our education system.  But I would caution my fellow legislators to take a good hard look before we dive headfirst into RTTT.  

Our neighbors to the south opted out of RTTT.  Texas Governor Rick Perry announced that Texas would not apply for continued funding under RTTT.  What would keep Texas for applying for “free money” from the government?  Well as we all know anytime the federal government passes out money it comes with strings attached.  The president of the Houston Federation of Teachers feared that RTTT would, “Require teachers to spend more time reporting and less time teaching, and that RTTT would lead to increased federal control of Texas schools.”  

Do we here in Oklahoma want a Washington bureaucrat establishing standards for curriculum for our children?  States participating in RTTT would be expected to adopt the Common Core State Standards Initiative for curriculum and testing.  This could very well be the first step toward a virtual federal takeover of our schools by establishing national standards, national curriculum, national testing, and a national database.  Would this make our public schools more accountable to the federal government and less accountable to families?

Education traditionally has been best handled at the local level.  We all want to improve education but do we really want some out-of-touch Washington bureaucrat making decisions that impact the education of our children?   I believe our schools work best when decisions are made by parents and educators.  

Education is definitely a Tenth Amendment issue.  Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government given authority over education.   Education is one of the constitutional “powers reserved to the people.”  Our schools exist to serve families, not the federal government.