- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2011

Over objections from Republicans on Capitol Hill, President Obama is making it clear he will proceed with his blueprint education reform and an overhaul of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. And this time, Mr. Obama will have some bipartisan cover, as many Republican governors are backing his approach.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, has come out in full-fledged support of the proposal, which frees states from the “failing” schools designation and other mandates of the No Child law in exchange for detailed reform plans.

His state had applied for a waiver even before Mr. Obama outlined the details in a speech Friday.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, said his state will apply, and dozens of other leaders from both parties are considering doing the same.

Connecticut, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oregon and several other states on Friday indicated that, minutes after Mr. Obama spoke, they’ll seek a way out of many NCLB mandates.

** FILE ** In this 2011 file photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (left) voiced his support for President Obama's education reform proposal, which frees states from the "failing" schools designation and other mandates of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. (Associated Press)
** FILE ** In this 2011 file photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam ... more >

“When there are things we can work together on, we should,” Mr. Haslam said Friday, joining Mr. Obama to announce the proposal.

Where governors see relief, however, Republicans in Congress see a power grab.

Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, called the waiver approach “a dangerous precedent” that will hinder Congress’ efforts to pass a comprehensive reform bill.

He also said the move raises legal questions because the administration through the waivers is essentially nullifying a law passed by Congress 10 years ago.

Mr. Kline and fellow House Republicans are pushing their own education-reform package, a five-part plan to eliminate federal red tape, recruit more effective teachers and scrap duplicative federal programs.

The majority of his plan has met stiff resistance from Democrats, with the exception of a bill that encourages and provides startup money for charter schools. That bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support earlier this month.

In the Senate, Republicans led by Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee recently unveiled their own blueprint, which focuses on eliminating the “adequate yearly progress” system under NCLB that calls for 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

The measure also authorizes the creation of a “Teacher Incentive Fund” to reward the best classroom leaders, combines federal education programs and, much like the bill passed in the House, expands charter schools.

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has yet to produce his plan, but it likely will contain many differences from the proposals put forward by Republicans.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan first revealed Mr. Obama’s waiver plan this summer, but it was short on details until Friday. To escape from under NCLB, states must already have in place college- and career-ready standards; develop systems of “differentiated recognition,” which highlight the highest-performing schools and those that best serve low-income students as “reward schools”; implement a turnaround program for the lowest-performing districts; and set up a detailed system to measure the effectiveness of teachers and principals.