Paper stacks
Michael Q. McShane

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted 50-49 to strike hundreds of pages of regulations drafted by the Department of Education in the waning days of the Obama presidency.

How did they do this? By invoking a heretofore little-used law called the Congressional Review Act, originally passed as part of the Contract with America in 1996. It allows Congress, through a joint resolution, to strike down recently issued regulations wholesale if they believe that those regulations differ substantially from the intent of the original legislation. The Department of Education’s rules surrounding the Every Student Succeeds Act were ripe for the picking, and for good reason.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed in late 2015 and signed into law by President Obama.  After nearly a half century during which the federal government accumulating increasing amounts of power over K-12 education, ESSA was a bipartisan attempt to return a substantial amount of authority back to the states. The Department of Education, however, in writing the rules that states would have to follow to be in compliance with the law, seems to have tried to hang onto everything it could.

The National Governors Association published a list of some of the regulations it had problems with, and just a quick perusal reveals that Department had mandated things like a single summative grade for schools, had narrowed the kinds of indicators that can be used to measure school success,  and had tried to set timelines for things like school improvement plans when the underlying legislation was purposely vague in order to give states more flexibility. These examples and many others show the degree to which bureaucrats acted like mini-legislators in their own right.

It is the job of the executive branch of our government to faithfully execute the laws written by Congress. Members of administrative agencies might not like a law, but it is their duty to see it through regardless.

Practically speaking, Congress just put the ball firmly in Missouri’s court. We can no longer point to the federal government as some bogey-man preventing us from doing what is best for kids. We are in charge of our education system, and we need to work diligently so it delivers for all of our children.

According to this PowerPoint presentation by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, it looks like the state plans to submit its plan to comply with the new law on April 3. When the plan is released, we will make sure to have analysis available for you, detailing what it means for districts, schools, teachers, and children.

About the Author

Michael McShane

Mike McShane is the Director of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.