Republican efforts to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB) were dealt an unexpected setback Friday, when a long-anticipated vote on HR5, dubbed the Student Success Act, was delayed unexpectedly after initial expectations of passing easily. Surprisingly, one contributing factor to the bill’s delay appears to have been a viral blog post warning that Congress was about to impose Common Core on the entire country.
HR5 is intended to replace NCLB and give states greater leeway in managing their schools. The bill is objectionable enough to the Obama administration that the president has threatened a veto. Despite the threat, the bill has also faced opposition from the right, and another reason for the delay was that House Republican leaders struggled to whip sufficient votes.
Much of the opposition has come from conservative groups, such as Heritage Action and Club for Growth, that simply believe the bill isn’t conservative enough on spending, , and other issues to warrant support. However, the bill’s abrupt stall may have come from an obscure blog post on an anti-Common Core website that went absolutely bonkers recently.
The post’s author argues that while HR5 claims to reduce federal influence in education, it actually does the opposite. The law, it alleges, would make Common Core mandatory nationwide, abolish religious instruction at private schools, and even subject private schools to oversight from government inspectors.
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A source familiar with events in the House said that the blog post had spurred a wave of calls to Congressmen, and helped fuel concerns about the bill. The calls were distressing, he said, because the law is anything but what the post alleges.
“It’s remarkable the amount of misinformation that has spread about this good, conservative education bill, especially when you consider most of the concerns that have been raised about federal involvement in classrooms is actually addressed in this bill,” the source told this writer.
Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, said that his organization had received inquiries from several staffers on the Hill who were worried after being contacted by alarmed constituents.
“If you’re a parent, and you hear from a reliable source that Congress is trying to rip religion out of your private school, you’re gonna react,” McTighe said.
For all the concern, however, the blog post’s claims are egregiously false, according to HR5 supporters and private school activists. Among the blog’s false claims:
1. HR5 would make Common Core mandatory
This claim is based on a reading of Sec. 1001 of the bill, which states “The purpose of this title is to provide all children the opportunity to graduate high school prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce.”
Common Core has frequently been described as providing “college and career-ready standards” for schools to use. The blog post extrapolates from this to conclude that a state would technically be compelled to adopt Common Core in order to comply with the purpose of the act.
In fact, page 52 of the law explicitly states that no state can be compelled, coerced, or influenced into adopting Common Core, or any other multi-state set of standards. The law’s language is designed to abolish programs such as Race to the Top, which was used by the federal government to promote Common Core’s adoption.
2. HR5 would abolish religious instruction in schools
The blog post also suggested that HR would result in new mandates preventing religious schools from offering religious instruction in certain areas. The claim is based on language in the law stating that “educational services or other benefits, including materials and equipment, shall be secular, neutral and nonideological.”
According to the American Association of Christian Schools (AACS), however, this is actually a gross misinterpretation of language that has been in federal law for years and is intended to protect religious schools. The group issued a Facebook statement on Thursday attempting to stem the uproar against the bill.
“The section of the bill that refers to secular, neutral, and non-ideological services for private school students is addressing supplemental educational services (i.e. tutoring) provided by public schools that use federal funds to offer these services,” the group said. “[It does not] mean that education at religious schools can no longer be religious or faith-based. These same services and opportunities were also a part of NCLB.”
“The autonomy of private schools is protected, and our people know that,” Jamison Coppola, legislative director for AACS, told me. While the group hasn’t endorsed the law, Coppola said, there is nothing in it that warrants objection from religious schools.
3. HR5 would foist government inspectors on private schools
Similar to the claim above, the blog post in question says that government-appointed ombudsmen will be used to inspect private schools:
An ombudsman, if you haven’t heard the term, is a paid position, a role in which a person investigates and mediates official complaints for a living. This bill mandates that private schools will be assigned a state-appointed ombudsman to monitor private schools: ’The State educational agency involved shall designate an ombudsman to monitor and enforce the requirements.”
According to McTighe, this claim is actually a total reversal of what the law is intended to do.
“Our organization actually wrote that language,” McTighe said. Ombudsmen are intended to make sure that public schools do not shortchange private schools in the provision of certain services, he said, rather than the other way around. Moreover, he said the language is nothing new. “That language has been there for 50 years.”
4. HR5 would undermine homeschooling rights.
Will Estrada, Director of Federal Relations with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), said the group had been barraged with calls from parents fearful that HR5 would cause federal intervention against homeschoolers. That simply is not the case, he said.
“The bill is very clear that nothing in the bill applies to a home school,” Estrada said.
Estrada said that HSLDA is officially neutral on HR5, because it views the law as simply maintaining the status quo for homeschoolers.
“Our mission is not to make public schools better,” he said.
This report, by Blake Neff, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.