by Emmett McGroarty
Anti-Common Core activists tried for months to warn Congress that the new federal education bill (the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA) was a disaster that would cement, not overturn, the odious progressive-education philosophies of the Obama Administration. Except for 64 House members (click here to see how your member voted) and 12 senators (click here to see how your senators voted) who were brave enough to buck Republican leadership, their warnings were dismissed. Now comes confirmation that the activists were dead on — and that Republican leadership, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, Rep. John Kline, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, carried out a cynical scheme to betray their constituents and give the Administration everything it wanted.
This confirmation comes from someone who should know — Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
In a just-released interview with Politico Pro, Duncan expressed joyful incredulity at how wonderful ESSA turned out to be from the Administration’s point of view (meaning, how bad it is for children, families, and the Constitution). “I’m stunned,” he said, “at how much better it ended up than either [House or Senate] bill going into conference. I had a Democratic congressman say to me that it’s a miracle — he’s literally never seen anything like it.”
What’s so good about ESSA, according to Duncan? “[I]f you look at the substance of what is there . . . embedded in the law are the values that we’ve promoted and proposed forever. The core of our agenda from Day One, that’s all in there – early childhood, high standards [i.e., Common Core], not turning a blind eye when things are bad. For the first time in our nation’s history, that’s the letter of the law.”
So just as the grassroots warned, the “core of the [leftist] agenda” is embodied in the unread 1,061 pages of ESSA. Every member of Congress who claims to be conservative and who voted for this, deciding to trust the establishment rather than the knowledgeable constituents who know this issue intimately, should hang his or her head in shame.
And as for the establishment — assuming Duncan is telling the truth, and as a lame duck on his way out the door, why shouldn’t he? — what they did is beneath contempt. In Duncan’s own words, speaking of Alexander and Kline:
We had many, many conversations behind the scenes . . . . And I said for us to support it, they’d have to shed their far, far right [i.e., constituents who support the Constitution and oppose Common Core] . . . . I honestly didn’t know if they’d have the political courage to do that. But they both said they would and they did. I give them tremendous credit for that.
And here he recounts his interaction with Ryan:
About a month before [final Senate passage of the bill], I ran into Speaker [Paul] Ryan and we just talked briefly. I asked if he was going to back this, whether he’s willing to take on the far right. I just asked him straight up. And he said, “Absolutely. We’re going to back this.” And, he did. That’s when I thought it had a real shot.
Here is where Duncan describes the tactics of the Republican betrayal:
We were intentionally quiet on the bill – they asked us specifically not to praise it – and to let it get through. And so we went into radio silence and then talked about it after the fact. . . . Our goal was to get this bill passed – intentionally silent on the many, many good aspects of the bill . . . [W]e were very strategically quiet on good stuff . . . .
So Alexander, Kline, and Ryan asked the Administration to keep quiet while they slipped its policies into the bill that they would then market to their “far right” as something that overturned those policies. The “far right” wasn’t fooled, but many, many members of Congress were.
And then Duncan took a victory lap:
The final thing is we have every ability to implement, to regulate the law . . . it’s just a Washington typical storyline. . . . And candidly, our lawyers are much smarter than many of the folks who were working on this bill. There are some face-saving things you give up, some talking points you give up, which we always do because we’re focused on substance. And we have every ability to implement. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Ever the savvy bureaucrat, Duncan realizes that implementation is often more important than statutory language — and he’s been given language that he can run with, all the way to progressive Utopia.
Duncan brags that his people outsmarted the Republicans working on the bill, which is certainly easy to believe. But maybe it was more than stupidity on their part — maybe the card-carrying members of the education establishment such as Lamar Alexander really agree with the leftists and have really bought into their dangerous philosophies.
But either way, these revelations should end the pathetic charade that Congress just restored states’ autonomy in education. Members of Congress can stop sending out mendacious press statements bragging about how they wrenched back power from Obama and Duncan. The only acceptable statements from them should be along the lines of, “I’m sorry, and I choose not to run for re-election.”
And as for Alexander, Kline, and Ryan — they have simply betrayed their constituents, especially the last few who actually believed any integrity remained in the Republican establishment. Remind us again why we need a Republican Party. Has it not gone the way of the Whigs?
Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APP Education.