Alexander blasts U.S. Dept. of Ed. chief over new school reform law
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander angrily accused the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday of blatantly ignoring part of the new school reform law that Congress passed last year with overwhelming bipartisan support.
In an unusual public scolding, Alexander told Education Secretary John B. King Jr. the department is not adhering to a key section of the law that relates to funding for low-income schools.
"Not only is what you're doing against the law," Alexander said during a Senate committee hearing, "the way you're trying to do it is against another provision in the law."
King tried to assure Alexander the Education Department is not circumventing the law, but is merely proposing regulations to give guidance to states and local school districts. But Alexander was not convinced.
"I can read," he said bluntly.
The law in question is the Every Student Succeeds Act, which Congress passed last year to replace the No Child Left Behind school-reform law put in place more than a decade earlier.
Alexander, a Maryville Republican, was one of the primary architects of the new law in his role as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The committee is holding a series of hearings on how the Obama administration is implementing the law.
At Tuesday's hearing, Alexander accused the Department of Education of overstepping its authority and trying to work around a provision that says federal funding must be used to supplement state and local spending on education.
Another section of the law requires comparable spending between Title I schools — those with large numbers of disadvantaged students — and schools that are not Title I.
The "comparability" provision has been in federal law since 1970, and Congress did not change it when the new school reform law passed last year.
But Alexander charged the department is trying to implement new regulations that would require equal, not comparable, spending per pupil. He also accused the department of trying to dictate the methodology that local school districts must use when calculating whether funding between schools is comparable — a move he said is not allowed under the law.
King disputed that. The department is not requiring any particular methodology, he said, but is simply trying to give schools the flexibility to measure the goal of comparable funding.
"How can you sit there and say that?" Alexander asked, arguing that the proposed regulations clearly dictate how states must go about measuring comparability.
Alexander warned he would use "every power of Congress" to make sure the law is implemented the way it was written, even if it meant using the appropriations process to block the regulations or overturning them once they are final.
If the department tries to force states to follow regulations that violate the law, "I'll tell them to take you to court," he said.
Alexander blasts U.S. Dept. of Ed. chief over new school reform law:
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Michael Collins is the Washington correspondent for the Knoxville News Sentinel. He writes about the Tennessee congressional delegation and monitors the federal government for any policies or issues that might be of interest to Tennesseans.
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