August 29, 2014

Pruitt Weighs Legal Action Against Federal Government over NCLB Waiver Denial

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State Attorney General Scott Pruitt is looking into the revocation of Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver, raising the possibility that the state could take legal action.

Pruitt said the federal government may have overstepped its authority. He added he supports strong academic standards, but he believes the U.S. Department of Education cannot dictate what those standards are.

“The law does not allow the secretary to condition Oklahoma’s waiver from No Child Left Behind on yielding the state’s right to define and establish standards,” Pruitt said in a written statement. “It would appear in this case the Obama administration has exceeded its authority under the law and my office will continue our examination of the best manner in which the state will respond.”

The waiver was revoked Thursday, which means schools will be subjected to tough proficiency standards. Failure to meet those standards will result in limitations on how to use some federal funding.

Amber England, the government affairs director for Stand for Children Oklahoma, which advocates for school reforms, accused Oklahoma lawmakers of playing politics by blaming the Obama administration over losing the waiver.

England said the real reason Oklahoma is in the situation it’s in now is because of lawmakers like Rep. Jason Nelson, who co-authored the bill repealing Common Core, and Gov. Mary Fallin, who signed it.

Nelson was among those who repeatedly said during debates this past spring that Oklahoma would likely lose the waiver by dropping Common Core.

“It’s really great politics to blame the president, especially in a red state,” England said. “Unfortunately, it’s very bad policy that will hurt our children.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was the first to take the fight over Common Core from the classroom to the courtroom. He filed a lawsuit earlier this week accusing the U.S. Department of Education of coercing states into adopting Common Core standards in order to receive federal funding or waivers from No Child Left Behind.

Louisiana still has its waiver from No Child Left Behind and still uses Common Core, making Oklahoma’s situation different.

Michael Petrelli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which advocates for the adoption of Common Core standards, said he believes Jindal has a weak case because no one has been harmed in Louisiana.

Oklahoma has stronger footing because it will lose flexibility on how to spend up to $30 million in federal funding without a waiver, Petrelli said.

Petrelli also questioned whether the U.S. Department of Education has the authority to attach requirements to the waivers.

Axing Oklahoma’s waiver as the state works through the process to implement new standards by 2016 has also given ammunition to critics who have accused the Obama administration of using waivers and federal funding as a way to push Common Core.

“It’s the worst thing they could have possible done,” Petrelli said of the Department of Education’s decision. “It’s not helping those of us who still support Common Core. I think the federal government should butt out.”

Oklahoma is the second state to lose its waiver this year.

Washington became the first to lose its waiver after failing to pass legislation that would tie student test results to teacher evaluations.

  • Steve Middleton

    Passed into law under the Bush presidency. OK has not performed to standards. What’s so hard to figure out?

  • apetty74041

    It’s GW’s law. Easy if Oklahoma doesn’t want the Federal Government to dictate what passes for education than we don’t need the Federal money… Oh, wait… Mary Fallin and most of the wingnuts need to be run out of OKC ASAP!