Changing policy sometimes requires change in oversight

Published 2:38 am Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Oftentimes truly changing public policy for the better requires not only improving the law but also careful oversight in order to ensure proper implementation of that law. You may remember that late last year we scored a significant legislative victory by getting the strong “state authority” provisions I championed for almost three years included in the long-overdue replacement to the “No Child Left Behind” education law. That law and the behavior it allowed has served to frustrate school administrators, hamstring teachers, and erode parents’ trust in public schools. As Congress worked to overhaul the law through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), one of my top priorities has been to return decision-making in education back to states and local communities where it belongs. The provisions I advocated for strictly prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from using funding grants or special rule waivers to coerce states into adopting its preferred policies. In fact, the Wall Street Journal called the nation’s new education law “the largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter century.”

With ESSA now the law of the land, my focus has turned toward making sure officials are adhering to the new law. At an Appropriations Committee hearing in March, I questioned U.S. Secretary of Education John King about his commitment to making sure the U.S. Department of Education adheres to the “state authority” provisions. While Secretary King committed to me that he would implement and enforce ESSA as written, I assured him that I would be watching to make sure that happened. This past week I met with local school superintendents from throughout Alabama who gave me more reason to be concerned about ESSA implementation living up to the intent of Congress.

That’s why I reached out to each member of the Alabama ESSA Implementation Committee in a letter asking for feedback on whether or not federal authorities are following Congress’ clear direction.

“As someone who has been involved in crafting this law,” I wrote, “I am here to answer any questions you might have regarding the clear intent Congress had toward ensuring flexibility at the state and local level. I also ask that you please keep me apprised of any attempt on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to disregard the intent of this new law and continue its coercive practices.

“Should federal partners you work with in the implementation process fail to adhere to this clear directive from Congress, I want to know about it.”

I have already heard back from several members of the committee and I look forward to working with them in our shared goal of ensuring the return of education decisions back to the states. Their feedback will help me hold the U.S. Secretary of Education and his staff accountable for the proper implementation of the nation’s new education law.


Martha Roby represents Southeast Alabama in the U.S. Congress.