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Can The Zeldin Amendment End Common Core?

October 16, 2015
In The News

An amendment was successfully added to the Student Success Act that could possibly bring an end to Common Core. This week, the US House narrowly passed the reauthorization of HR 5 (the Student Success Act). HR 5 is the controversial proposed replacement for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The amendment, authored by conservative Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), would allow a state to opt-out of Common Core “or other specific standards” without reprisals from the feds. It passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in a 373-57 vote.

The eponymous Zeldin Amendment is a two sentence piece of legislation that says a state can withdraw from Common Core or any other specific standards without penalty or punishment from a government agent. The intent is to remove the fear of losing federal funds and bring control of education decisions back to the state and local level.

The amendment reads:

SEC. 6532. STATE CONTROL OVER STANDARDS.

(a) IN GENERAL.—Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit a State from withdrawing from the Common Core State Standards or any other specific standards.

(b) PROHIBITION.—No officer or employee of the Federal Government shall, directly or indirectly, through grants, contracts or other cooperative agreements, through waiver granted under section 6401 or through any other authority, take any action against a State that exercises its rights under subsection (a).

Can it end Common Core, though?

After the amendment passed, Zeldin told Breitbart Texas via email, “This is the single most important action Congress can take to make it crystal clear that states can withdraw from Common Core without fear of penalty from the federal government.”

As a New York state senator, Zeldin fought ferociously against Common Core. “The biggest complaint I received about why New York State couldn’t opt out of Common Core was because the state would lose federal funding,” he recently told Breitbart Texas in a phone conversation.

He blamed the “bureaucrats at the Department of Education in Washington threatening to financially penalize the state when I had introduced legislation that would have stopped Common Core in New York State.”

Zeldin said he introduced the amendment “to address the issue where states are not withdrawing from Common Core out of fear that they will be financially penalized from the federal government.”

Critics call the amendment window dressing.

“States have always been able to adopt or withdraw from Common Core,” said pro-Common Core business coalition High Achievement New York spokesman Steve Sigmund, Capital New York reported. The Zeldin Amendment asserts that states do not do so out of fear of financial reprisals.

Anti-Common Core activist site Education without Representation says states can opt-out of Common Core but “the feds bribe states not to, and states don’t.”

In an article for Breitbart News, education expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky surmised that the US Education Department (USED) could penalize a state if they wanted to do so for dumping Common Core. Although not the bulk of the dollars, they could could withhold “at most 5%-10% of the 1% Title I funds set aside for administrative functions.”

Breitbart News also reported that the Obama administration zinged Oklahoma for withdrawing from the Common Core by rescinding the state’s NCLB waiver. This forced them to meet old standards of 100 percent reading and math proficiency under NCLB. The waiver releases schools from that requirement.

Stotsky also flagged Title I dollars as an atypical casualty. When a state relinquishes its NCLB waiver it does not necessarily mean schools lose their federal funding; those dollars are redirected towards tutoring allocations, if a school chronically fails to meet the NCLB proficiency mandates.

“There seem to be no likely penalties if a state accepted a USED award…and now chooses to withdraw from the agreement:” Stotsky wrote of the Race to the Top competition grants that were the gateway to Common Core for many states.

There is no guarantee that HR 5 will move beyond the House. Zeldin emphasizes the importance of this and other HR 5 amendments can “help in crafting other pieces of legislation” now that the ideas have garnered attention.

“This entire debate presents an opportunity to use whatever leverage exists at the moment to enact the testing reforms and Common Core changes that people across America are demanding more and more as the weeks and months go by,” he added.

Conservative Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) also introduced an HR 5 amendment which passed and would allow parents to opt their children out of standardized testing. It remains to be seen if a few amendments from congressmen like Salmon and Zeldin can fix the multitude of problems associated with Fed Led Ed.

Still, Empire state superintendent David Gamberg applauds Zeldin’s efforts: “I think it is very significant that one of our federally elected officials supports local communities in his congressional district in their desire to de-couple a punitive approach to improving education.”