by Sally Holland, CNN
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Republicans on Capitol Hill Wednesday criticized Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s use of waivers for schools that haven’t met the benchmarks for the No Child Left Behind law
“I don’t believe that the language of the law allows the secretary to provide conditional waivers,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minnesota, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
When No Child Left Behind originated over 10 years ago, it set standards that students had to meet by certain dates or the schools would face sanctions. As the standards have gotten progressively higher, schools have had difficulty reaching the goals. Last fall, the Obama administration began providing waivers for schools that were unable to reach the benchmarks.
Bills to reauthorize and rework the No Child Left Behind Act are waiting for floor debate in both the House and Senate.
“Our children only get one shot at a world-class education and they cannot wait any longer for reform. And that’s why we’ve offered states regulatory relief from (No Child Left Behind) in exchange for reforms that drive student achievement,” Duncan said.
Kline, meanwhile, said in his opening statement: “The obscure process of granting these quid pro quo waivers leads me to question whether states are being pressured to adopt the administration’s preferred reforms.”
So far, 11 states have received the waivers. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have applied.
“As I have said this has not been my first choice. I continue to want to work very, very hard with all of you to reauthorize No Child Left Behind and to fix it and to do it in a bipartisan way. That hasn’t happened yet and so we felt compelled to do this,” said Duncan.
“Ultimately I have to approve or not approve the waivers,” Duncan said.
On another subject, Duncan encouraged the committee to take action on student loan interest rates. This summer, student loan subsidized interest rates will double unless Congress does something to stop it from happening.
“With so many students already struggling to make ends meet and afford the skyrocketing cost of college, now is not the time to heap more cost on top of that,” Duncan said.
The education secretary appeared before the committee to answer questions concerning President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal for the Department of Education. The president is asking for $69.8 billion, a 2.5% increase over the 2012 levels.
The Obama budget includes a request of $1 billion for a “college affordability and completion” challenge that administration officials say will encourage states to look at ways to make college more affordable and improve the quality of the higher education systems.
It also includes money for a program called RESPECT, which has the goal of making teaching a more important and respected profession.