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TribBlog: Federal "Takeover" of Texas Schools?

Texas school chief calls requirements to adopt national curriculum standards "unprecedented intrusiveness"

Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott recently fired off a letter to the Texas congressional delegation decrying the move toward national curriculum standards as “a step toward a federal takeover of the nation’s public schools.”

Texas, he asserts, already have more, tougher and better standards than the federal government seeks to provide. The feds, meanwhile, maintain Texas is among dozens of states that have adopted too-low standards in order to make their students appear more educated than they are.

“Takeover” likely represents political hyperbole, in the anti-Washington, get-off-my-yard tone now in vogue among certain Texas Republicans. Public schools, after all, are financed almost entirely by states and local districts, and money means control in schools as much as anywhere else. But the feds long have dangled buckets of cash as carrots to control local policy changes, often with great success. 

That’s the case with the move toward national standards, which the U.S. Department of Education has made a precondition for state’s to receive a share of $4.35 billion in “Race to the Top” grants. Scott, in his letter, believes the strategy will soon extend to other — larger — pots of money for special education and low-income students.

“I believe that USDE (federal education department) will utilize the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act … to further the administration’s takeover of public schools, including withholding billions of dollars from our disadvantaged and special education students,” Scott wrote.

Texas and Alaska are the only two states holding out against the move toward standards — which may cost the state between $350 million and $700 million in federal money.

Though that’s no small sum, Scott’s “back of the envelope” estimate for the cost of scrapping state standards and starting anew comes to a whopping $3 billion.

The funds are conditioned on adopting federal orthodoxy regarding national curriculum standards, supporting charter schools, data systems and teacher quality.

Texas’s bucking of national standards has a political undercurrent, to be sure. In his letter, sent Nov. 25, Scott takes a decidedly anti-Washington tone mimicking that of his boss Gov. Rick Perry, for whom the rejection of national standards fits into the larger anti-Washington (read: anti-Senator Hutchison) theme of his campaign.

Indeed, Scott even references the Gipper: “’Ronald Reagan once said, ‘I believe a case can be made that the decline in the quality of public education began when federal aid to education became federal interference in education.” 

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