Congress is advancing a bill that would allow parents to opt their children out of Common Core, but some conservative members, such as Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., say Republicans should use their sizable majority to transfer much more control of schools back to parents and local officials and move closer to scrapping the Department of Education entirely.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives re-authorized the No Child Left Behind law that was originally passed in 2002 but expired in 2007. The vote was 218-213. All Democrats opposed it, along with 27 Republicans.
Rep. Walker is a leading congressional advocate for decentralized control over education. He told WND and Radio America that the bill is definitely not perfect but does accomplish some important things.
“It does prevent federal coercion on Common Core. It also allows parents across the country to specifically opt out of Common Core for their children. Being a father of three, that’s something that’s very important to me,” said Walker, who is a bit worried about how the U.S. Senate might change the bill.
“It does go to the Senate, which can be frightening,” he said. “I know they’re working together on an education bill, and we hope that some of these amendments we’ve added would remain.”
The Senate version of the bill will eventually head to a conference committee, where House and Senate negotiators will hammer out a compromise. Walker said it needs to include two key components if leaders want his support.
“If the parent doesn’t have more control than where it was just a couple months ago, then I would certainly vote a strong no against it,” Walker said. “A good, solid federalist approach would be to let the states have more control. If those two things are in it, I can go forward even though there may be a couple of nuggets I don’t like. If those two things aren’t in it, then absolutely not.”
Walker said the heart of meaningful, GOP-led education reform should be focused on moving power out of Washington and back to parents and local officials.
“Do you either trust the people in the local communities, or do you trust Washington to do a better job specifically in the area of educating our children?” he asked. “We did a poll recently in the sixth district of North Carolina. Seventy-one percent believe that government is more effective and more accountable the more localized you can make it.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C.:
Walker also led an effort to amend the House bill to give states much more flexibility in how to spend federal dollars. While the amendment failed, the congressman said his APLUS plan is another way to get Washington bureaucrats out of the classroom.
“It allows states to opt out completely of even the bill that did pass, but still keep the federal funding,” he said. “In other words, the funding would come in the form of block grants, but the state would not be required to adapt to any of the more than 80 federal programs that we have seen time and time again not bringing the success that’s needed.”
Democrats immediately pushed back at the Walker amendment, claiming the receipt of federal dollars ought to be contingent upon following federal rules.
“I had to do this on the floor with the member (Jared) Polis from Colorado, who, in paraphrasing, talked about, ‘How are we going to manage this? How do we hold them accountable?’ My question was this: How has that worked for us the past, 40, 45, 50 years?” Walker said.
The Walker amendment, which was also championed by Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., failed on a 235-195 vote. While hoping for passage, Walker said getting that close on his amendment was a major achievement in just a few months.
“It was just three months ago when I took it to the rules committee that it was a slam dunk, no-way no-chance, not anywhere close,” he said. “To come back only three-and-a-half months later and get it to the floor for a vote, a lot of people were expecting maybe 125 or 130. To go as strong as 195 was something that certainly encouraged us.”
Walker’s current focus is on giving states more control over their schools. His bigger goal is to abolish the Department of Education. He says its track record is a disaster.
“You’ve got to somehow go back and do a generation of failed policy all the way back to the late Jimmy Carter administration, when it was first introduced,” he said. “Reagan tried to abolish it early on in his presidency. He didn’t have the horsepower or the Congress behind him enough. If you fast forward 35-36 years later, most of our lifetime, we now can look back and see that this new federal bureaucracy simply hasn’t worked.”
While he admits no efforts to abolish the Department of Education have been introduced yet in the House, Walker said he would likely get behind that legislation.
“There’s been some drafts here and there, nothing that’s been assigned to a bill number, that would be aggressive to say, ‘We tried this. There’s billions of dollars being wasted every year. Maybe it’s time to take a look at that. If it is, I would be one to support that and happy to go on record in doing so,” he said.
While Walker draws his line in the sand on how he’ll approach a final version of the current legislation, he is not as confident that GOP leaders will demand more rights for parents and states.
“No sir, I’m not,” Walker said. “There seems to be a culture sometimes in Washington that to get it through is a victory. As Dr. Phil says sometimes, ‘How’s that working for you?'”
That being said, Walker is very appreciative that House leaders allowed his APLUS amendment to be considered.
“We actually approached leadership and worked hard on these three amendments, both the Salmon amendment (which allows parents to opt their children out of Common Core), the one that shortened it (from a six to a four year program) as well as APLUS. So they did work with us in allowing these three amendments to get to the floor, when just a few months ago APLUS was ruled out of order,” he said.