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NCLB Waivers: Part of Obama’s Re-Election Strategy

By Michele McNeil — October 24, 2011 1 min read
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With President Obama’s jobs plan stalled in Congress and his re-election campaign saddled by low approval numbers and high unemployment, his administration plans to roll out a series of policy initiatives that show action in the face of deadlock.

This week, he plans to announce efforts to help underwater mortgage holders and struggling student-loan borrowers, according to the New York Times and Politico’s Playbook.

And an important part of this “we can’t wait” narrative: Since Congress couldn’t get the job done on rewriting No Child Left Behind, his administration took action to give states and districts relief.

Mike Allen, in today’s Playbook, quotes a White House official who was explaining the new message: "[W]e decided to stop waiting for Congress to fix No Child Left Behind, and decided to give states the flexibility they need to help our children meet higher standards.”

And the Times writes as an example of several steps Obama officials have already undertaken: "[The administration] announced waivers for states with schools falling short of the proficiency standards of the 2002 No Child Left Behind education law—a move that prompted some senators to compromise on an alternative rewrite of the law.”

Even back on Sept. 23, when Obama announced the waiver plan in the East Room of the White House, he was already constructing this “we can’t wait” narrative:

“I’ve urged Congress for a while now, let’s get a bipartisan effort, let’s fix this. Congress hasn’t been able to do it. So I will. Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting,” he said.

Of course, whether or not these waivers make good political sense for Obama doesn’t likely matter a whole lot to the states and districts that have been clamoring for flexibility under NCLB. The latest tally is that 39 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, want them.