The conservative case for H.R. 5

The Club for Growth is right about a bunch of issues, but they’re wrong about the pending House bill to replace No Child Left Behind with something far better. H.R. 5 (the “Student Success Act”), slated for floor action a few days hence, would, if enacted, be the most conservative federal education move in a quarter century. It has the potential to undo nearly all of the mischievous, dysfunctional, intrusive, big-government features of NCLB and return most education responsibility and authority to states, just as the Tenth Amendment prescribes. Which is, of course, precisely why the bill has come under sustained attack from the left! If right and left team up to kill it, we’ll be left with No Child Left Behind circa 2002, as modified (and made even more mischievous) by the Education Department’s unilateral “waivers.” 

Moreover, states have always had the option—urged yesterday by the Club for Growth as if it were a fresh idea—to “opt completely out of the program.” Any state willing to forego its share of federal education dollars is free to do so—and to exempt itself from all the rules and constraints that accompany those dollars.

States have flirted with this option, and perhaps one will someday actually make such a move, but so far—that means for the last fifty years, inasmuch as NCLB was only the most recent iteration of a 1965 program—none has wanted to decline the money.

Because it’s unlikely that many states ever will, and even less likely that the money will vanish entirely (though H.R. 5 caps and redirects it in ways that the Obama administration is railing against), conservatives should cheer the flexibility and empowerment given back to state leaders by this bill. Then they should focus on the Senate, where Senators Alexander and Murray are trying to craft a bipartisan measure to take to markup in the weeks ahead.

Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. is a Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.