POLITICO: Obama education legacy: Pomp and fizzle?

Career College Central Summary:

  • President Barack Obama’s proposal to give millions of students free tuition at community colleges made a big splash on Friday, as the administration had intended.
  • But the moment also exposed the limits of Obama’s power on education, as his ambitions for big, legacy-defining initiatives run smack into a buzzsaw of opposition from across the political spectrum.
  • Congress is highly unlikely to approve a new entitlement with an estimated price tag of $60 billion over the next decade. Republicans quickly dismissed the college proposal as a political stunt. And leading Democrats expressed, at best, polite support.
  • In the K-12 arena, too, Obama can command the spotlight when he lays out his vision — but his clout doesn’t extend much beyond that at this point.
  • Education Secretary Arne Duncan is preparing to deliver a major policy speech Monday outlining the administration’s goals for revamping the No Child Left Behind law that governs some $78 billion in annual federal education spending. Yet the administration’s education policies have proved so toxic on both the left and the right that it has little leverage on the Hill, according to analysts from across the political spectrum.
  • Obama’s big play for relevancy on both K-12 and higher education could build an enduring and even transformative legacy if enacted.
  • But the response to Duncan’s speech is likely to be: “We don’t really give a damn what the administration thinks. Congress is driving this train,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank.
  • “The administration has backed itself into a wall, essentially,” said Joseph Bishop, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Opportunity Action.
  • The administration’s aggressive assertion of federal power over all facets of education in its first six years — from the way states collect data on students to the way they regulate colleges of education — has angered traditional opponents and traditional allies alike, he said.
  • Obama still has his veto power, of course, and that may turn out to be important leverage in the No Child Left Behind debate. “But they are no longer dictating the rules of the game,” Bishop said.

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