Republican Candidates Tout ‘Anti-Federalism’ on Education

Some Republican presidential candidates are opposing the long-held idea that federal government has a necessary role to play in the nation’s school districts, arguing that education responsibilities should devolve to states and local districts, writes Trip Gabriel at the New York Times.

Driven by the fervor of the Tea Party, the likes of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are heralding a sweeping anti-federal government stance on education. And the key question is whether, without Washington’s guidance, states and local districts can continue to raise academic standards and give equal opportunity to traditionally ignored student populations.

Tom Luna, superintendent of schools in Idaho, said Washington’s oversight of education is different from health care or environmental regulations.

“If you’re a conservative Republican like I consider myself,” said Mr. Luna, who is also president-elect of the Council of Chief State School Officers, “there has to be accountability for how those dollars are spent. We can’t send them to schools or states with no accountability.”

The change in Republican perspective is most noticeable with Governors Romney and Perry, who earlier in their political careers supported No Child Left Behind.

But today Perry complains of “unfunded mandates” in federal education laws that require Texas, he says, to spend more to meet the rules than it receives in federal dollars.

He was one of four governors who refused to compete in Race to the Top, a grant contest that he called “a federal takeover of public schools” writes Gabriel.

For his part, Romney has recently praised Mr. Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, for promoting “school choice” and tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. But the Massachusetts governor is clearly feeling the hot breath of Tea Party anti-federalism.

In a debate last month, when Mr. Perry accused him of being a Race to the Top fan, Mr. Romney responded, “I don’t support any particular program that he’s describing.” In fact, writes Gabriel, Mr. Romney had praised Race to the Top the day before.

It’s unclear whether these Republican candidates are after the entire department’s $68 billion budget. Presumably not many of the Republican candidates want to zero out all this money. One who appears to is Mrs. Bachmann, who promises “the mother of all repeal bills” to undo education laws dating from the Great Society.

This comes a month after she told a forum that if elected president, she would consider cutting several federal programs and institutions, including the Department of Education — reiterating a stance she’s mentioned before, writes the Huffington Post.

“The Constitution does not specifically enumerate nor does it give to the federal government the role and duty to superintend over education,” Bachmann said.

“That historically has been held by the parents and by local communities and by state government. To put that into the federal government as we saw a Department of Education in the late 1970s has eviscerated the constitutional understanding that the control of education truly lies with the parents.”

“Over a three-year period,” she explained in August at a rally in South Carolina, “I’d take the money we send to schools and write to superintendents, ‘No more requirements you have to deal with, but over three years you won’t have any money.’ ”

For now, conservative crowds are applauding.