It was announced just last week that Illinois was one of nineteen finalists for the Race to the Top funding from the federal government. Under this program, winners would share $3 billion education reform funding from the stimulus package; awards had been previously given earlier this year. The Race to the Top funding was introduced by Education Secretary Arne Duncan in January of 2009:

The centerpiece of the Obama administration’s education reform efforts is the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund, a national competition which will highlight and replicate effective education reform strategies in four significant areas:

  • Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals;
  • Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices; and
  • Turning around our lowest-performing schools.

“The $4.35 billion Race to the Top program that we are unveiling today is a challenge to states and districts. We’re looking to drive reform, reward excellence and dramatically improve our nation’s schools,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at the event.

However, one of the stipulations for accepting this funding is that a state would have to adhere to national education standards. Essentially, that means that a state is sacrificing their sovereignty for federal funding. Additionally, this “reform” is based on international standards, not national or local standards.  This is not the first time in recent years that federal standards have been placed on states. The No Child Left Behind legislation passed during the Bush administration gave flexibility to states and local school districts in the distribution of funding, but the legislation was still administered with the federal government dictating guidelines to the states regarding school improvement standards.

With both of these reform initiatives passed in the past ten years, we have to ask, are such pieces of legislation Constitutional?  If we examine, the role of the federal government in the Constitution, there is no mention of  federal intervention in education. However, the Founders were strong proponents of education, as education helped ensure an informed electorate. George Washington said:

A primary object..should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing…than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of our country?

The Constitution, crafted in part by Washington, outlines that roles not given to the federal government belong to the state. Education would be such a role. By our Constitution, the roles of education are designated to more local levels of government. The state motto of Illinois is “state sovereignty, national union”. Would accepting more money with federal strings attached both violate the Constitution and negate the spirit of the state motto?