by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
State lawmakers around the country are pushing bold and ambitious education reform plans and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears content to let them lead the way.
“It’s encouraging to see so many states pass pro-student and pro-parent legislation that expands the educational opportunities available to children and their families,” DeVos told RealClearEducation in a statement. “I’ve always said that parents and educators at the grassroots level know best what their students need.”
While the secretary is a vocal proponent of school choice, she prefers that states and local officials take the initiative. Even with Republican control of the White House and Capitol Hill, DeVos has pledged not to push a federal school choice program and has indicated that any federal action would come in the form of support for choice programs that states can opt to participate in.
The secretary’s philosophy runs counter to much of the modern history of American public education. Starting with President Lyndon Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, nearly every administration has exerted some sort of federal influence over K-12 education, from President Jimmy Carter’s creation of the Department of Education to President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind to President Obama’s Race to the Top.
The one glaring exception is the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan piece of legislation signed by Obama that hands a substantial amount of authority and decision-making back to the states. DeVos embraces ESSA wholeheartedly.