5 Ideas For Betsy DeVos To Devolve Education Policy From Washington To The States

By Karen Nussle, Executive Director, CL4E

Daily Caller | 1/17/2017

With the confirmation hearing of Secretary of Education-Nominee Betsy DeVos just days away, critical decisions involving the future of our executive branch are still far from over.

The mix up of leadership in Washington is undoubtedly a tremendous opportunity to continue education reform that has been happening over the last year, but with a twist. With help from DeVos – a known state education reformer – conservative lawmakers across the country now have the chance to take the reins away from the federal bureaucracy and shape meaningful state policy for students in their states.

With this spirit in mind, members from our conservative education reform coalition, Conservative Leaders for Education, have fashioned five ideas on how we can work with Betsy DeVos to keep Washington out of our state education systems…[more]


CL4E Releases New Policy Platform

This week, Conservative Leaders for Education (CL4E) released a new policy document using our coalition’s four foundational principles, with real ideas that our members can use when tackling education policy discussions back in their states.

Click here to view the full document.

President-Elect Trump: Think outside the box on Sec of Ed

By Karen Nussle, Executive Director, CL4E

As a conservative that works in the education policy arena, I am hopeful that President-elect Trump is true to his “outsider” brand when picking a cabinet secretary for the Department of Education.  Trump voters could not have been clearer in communicating their expectations:  give us something new and different. Not the same old tired political class that has dominated Washington and our government for decades.  Shake it up. Do the unexpected.  Give some new, smart people a chance to direct the affairs of the country.  So I’m hoping in this cabinet pick, we see some new, exciting local stars and not tired, Washington based think tankers or politicians.

To break the recent trend, the Trump transition needs to look first to state leaders who are on the front lines of actually doing the hard work of transforming education – not just talking or writing about it.  New, in some instances young, leaders who have a track record of showing how to advance conservative education policy.

Who would I recommend?  Here are some candidates that I think make the grade.

Lisa Graham Keegan – former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Keegan is a true conservative — she was vice-Chair of the Republican platform committee in 2008 and has served numerous prominent republican leaders from Governor Jan Brewer to former Speaker Newt Gingrich.  But most recently Keegan has been a tireless advocate for the expansion of charter schools in Arizona (now one of the top 10 states in the nation for charters), and as current Executive Director of “A for Arizona” she is breaking ground in showing that low income public schools can be high achievers.  She is on the front lines of some of the most exciting progress happing in K-12 education and she has the skills to help other states model these reforms while getting the federal government out of the way. Plus anyone who has raised 5 children can certainly handle Congress.

Dr. Carlos Campo – prominent Hispanic evangelical leader and current President of Ashland University, Campo would be an excellent choice to head DoE.  The education focus in the near future will be on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, so someone with experience in higher education, rather than K-12, would be a smart choice.  Campo would have instant credibility with conservatives (he served as President of Regent University) and is a passionate advocate for Hispanic children, who will soon become a majority in America’s public school population. He has an impressive track record as an actual classroom educator and would be a refreshing outsider to occupy America’s top education job.

Secretary Hanna Skandera – as current Secretary of Education in New Mexico, Skandera has made a name for herself as a bold leader who is not afraid to take on the education establishment.  Skandera led the state’s transition from the one-size-fits-all approach of No Child Left Behind to a New Mexico-based framework for supporting students and schools.  She has expanded choices for parents and students by expanding access to charter schools, and most importantly, she slashed the Public Education Department’s budget by 30% while directing more dollars to students and teachers in the classroom.  Skandera’s local education experience spans 4 states (NM, TX, CA and FL, where she was deputy commissioner) and in all of those places she served Republican chief executives. She is a state leader that knows how to enact conservative education policy and can help other states do the same while keeping the federal Education Department’s footprint to a minimum.

State Legislative Leaders – we have several shinning stars among our members in Conservative Leaders for Education.  All of them would make excellent choices as they all have considerable experience in education policy and several are actual educators (check them out here).  For example, Senator Owen Hill.  Senator Hill is Chairman of the Colorado Senate Education Committee, is an Air Force veteran and homeschooling father of four young children. What a refreshing choice he would make!  Hill is known as a limited government conservative who is working to expand parental choices in education.  In his own words, “The current system of concentrated power at the federal government needs to be transformed into a model where local government in conjunction with personal liberty is the priority. This will help us create thousands of local community laboratories experimenting with the best mix of limited government, personal responsibility, and neighborly generosity that help us live flourishing lives in the modern world. This is what our Founders meant when they wrote of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  His number one priority has been to expand the number of Colorado kids that get to choose their school, and he has been quite successful at that, as currently one in seven Colorado school children has chosen the school they attend.

Dr. Tony Zeiss – Zeiss is the outgoing president of Central Piedmont Community College, one of the largest community colleges in North Carolina, serving approximately 70,000 students per year.  During his tenure, the college grew from one campus to six and has become recognized as a national leader in Workforce Development.  A leader from the higher education community would be timely, given Congress’ interest in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, and someone familiar with the Community College system would be a bonus. Zeiss clearly has experience with big systems and could bring some much needed conservative leadership to the Department.

Betsy DeVos – hailing from Michigan, a state that helped give Trump the Presidency, DeVos is a known conservative leader and a ferocious education reformer.  She has served as Chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and as the Republican National Committee woman for the state.  Through her family foundation she has significantly helped to advance efforts around school choice and charter schools in many states around the country.  DeVos is Chair of the American Federation for Children (AFC), which describes itself as “a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs.” She has said her overall goal is that “all parents, regardless of their zip code, have had the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children. And that all students have had the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential.”

Secretary Bill Bennett – I would be remiss if I did not include Conservative Leaders for Education’s own chairman, former Secretary Bill Bennett.  The case for Bennett is strong. As Ronald Reagan’s Education Secretary, Bennett is the only person on the planet who can claim to have actually reduced the size of the Federal Department of Education.  He is a conservative’s conservative, award winning academic, a two-time former cabinet secretary, best-selling author and one of the best darn communicators in the Republican party (he should have run for President).  He would bring the ultimate in conservative thinking to significantly reducing the size and scope of the Department of Education while leading the way for parent choice and quality content in schools  – he’s done it before.

CL4E Weighs In on Department’s Proposed Supplement Not Supplant Rule

This week, several members of the Conservative Leaders for Education coalition officially submitted comments on the proposed “supplement not supplant” rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Education under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In the letter the coalition of state lawmakers and education education officials called for the Department to rewrite their proposed language noting that the rules are “overly prescriptive and will end up complicating and inhibiting the efforts of educators and policymakers on the ground to meet the real challenges of students and teachers.”

Click here for the full letter or see below.


November 7, 2016

James Butler
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW., Room 3W246, Washington, DC 20202.

Docket ID:  ED-2016-OESE-0056


Dear Mr. Butler,

Conservative Leaders for Education (CL4E) is a new initiative chaired by former Education Secretary William Bennett and comprised of state policy-makers and legislators with an acute interest in and purview over state education policy.  Specifically, we have articulated four fundamental principles that we believe should underpin education policy:  Local Control, Choice, Accountability, and Quality Content.  To learn more about these principles and our efforts visit our website at www.ConservativeLeaders4Ed.org

We write today to provide a state policy perspective on the U.S. Department of Education’s (DoE) proposed rules for implementation of the “supplement, not supplant” requirement in the expenditure of title I, part A federal funds.

We want to first emphasize that as a group of state policy-makers we do not take a position on how any given state or LEA should expend, and account for the expenditure of these funds, in their overall compliance with the long-standing supplement, not supplant requirement.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) specifically, and wisely, left those specific policy and budgeting decisions at the state and local levels.

We do write in support of maintaining state and local decision-making in how best to both comply with the federal supplement, not supplant requirement AND most effectively innovate to help the schools and students these federal funds are directed to.

In reviewing this NPRM we were first struck — and frankly somewhat shocked — by the following sentence in DoE’s own summary of the NPRM (at Page 61153, emphasis added): “The proposed regulation would require that an LEA distribute almost all state and local funds they receive through one of the three methodologies.”[1]

It is hard to overstate the sweeping nature of not only this statement, but the very concept that the distribution of “almost all state and local funds” by every school district across this huge and diverse nation is best accomplished by 1 of 3 systems designed or driven by Washington, D.C.  As state policy-makers we recognize the incredible diversity of circumstances and challenges LEA’s face just within our own state’s borders.  Even at the state level we are very cautious to presume that an approach that might work for some LEAs is also the correct approach for all of them in the state.

While some may respond that there does exist the fourth “special rule” that an LEA might consider developing on its own, compliance with that “special rule” process is extremely cumbersome, and further still requires an LEA to complete its budget calculations in a manner that simply disregards unique circumstances at individual schools within an LEA, such as differences in staff experience levels.

This kind of federal micro-management is exactly what the ESSA intended to shift away from.

As state education policy-makers, we have no higher priority than attempting to raise the academic performance of challenged students and struggling schools.  Title I funds can be an important part of developing a comprehensive strategy in each state and LEA towards that crucial goal.  There is simply no reason to hamstring that state and local policy development and innovation by forcing it to fit within one of a handful of federally approved approaches.  The longstanding supplement, not supplant requirement can be met without putting these kind of new federal barriers in place.

As is too often the case, what may be well-meaning but overly prescriptive federal regulations can actually end up complicating and inhibiting the efforts of those at the ground level in their efforts to meet the very real challenges these students and schools face on a daily basis.

We note that the Council of Chief State School Officers submitted draft regulations demonstrating that compliance with the supplement, not supplant requirement does not require the kind of federal micro-management represented by the current NPRM.

We encourage DoE to return to the drawing board and start this process anew with a focus not on creating a couple of approved federal forms and formulas for thousands of LEAs and all the states to then figure out how to conform to, but instead a focus on how the federal program rules can actually help and encourage states and LEAs to innovate in finding better ways to serve these students and schools with the federal funds that have been specifically allocated for that purpose.



Representative Paul Boyer (AZ)

Chair, House Education Committee

Senator Owen Hill (CO)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

Mary Scott Hunter (AL)
Representative, Alabama Board of Education

Senator Peggy Lehner (OH)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

Senator Luther Olsen (WI)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

Representative Amanda Price (MI)
Chair, House Education Committee

Senator Howard A. Stephenson (UT)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

Senator Mike Wilson (KY)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

(All signatories are founding members of Conservative Leaders for Education)

[1] The three methodologies DoE is referring to are:  1. A per-pupil weighted formula; 2. A resource allocation formula, (as many LEAs and the CCSSO have detailed in submitted comments, neither of these first two methodologies comport with actual budget practices or solid educational decision-making in most LEAs) or; 3. A new state developed funds-based formula, but the proposed requirements for development of such a new statewide budgeting formula are exceeding complex and cumbersome.


New Video Series Highlights Four Principles for State Education Policy

Urges Focus on Accountability, Parent Choice, Local Control and Quality Content During ESSA Implementation

WASHINGTON, DC (October 24, 2016) — This week, Conservative Leaders for Education (CL4E)  is releasing a video series outlining key principles that lawmakers, education officials and engaged stakeholders should use to help drive key state policy decisions that have now been properly returned to the states under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

To date, three states – Arizona, Illinois and North Carolina – have released drafts of their plans; every state is required to follow suit by March 6, 2017.

The introductory video released today titled, “ESSA and a New Opportunity” is the first of a five-part series that will outline four specific education principles critical to advancing conservative education reforms at the state level.

“ESSA created an opportunity for conservatives to say, ‘We care about education. We have good ideas about education,” said CL4E’s chairman, William J. Bennett, former Education Secretary under President Ronald Reagan, noted author, and award-winning professor. “The four principles laid out in our new video series are the foundation of our coalition’s platform and are integral in guaranteeing that all students benefit from the best education possible.”

One new video will be released each day throughout the course of the next week covering accountability, parent choice, local control and quality content. The videos feature four of the coalition’s founding members, all of which are Education Committee Chairs in their respective legislatures:

  • Representative Paul Boyer (Arizona)
  • Representative Amanda Price (Michigan),
  • Senator Howard Stephenson (Utah)
  • Senator Mike Wilson (Kentucky).

The videos are one of many recruitment tools being employed by CL4E to organize and mobilize conservative education leaders at the state level. In recent weeks, the group has added state leaders from five additional states:

  • Colorado Senator Owen Hill
  • Alabama Board Rep. Mary Scott Hunter
  • Ohio Senator Peggy Lehner
  • Wisconsin Senator Luther Olsen
  • Nevada Assemblywoman Melissa Woodbury

Former Secretary Bennett is also featuring the coalition’s founding members on his podcast. His discussions are available online at https://www.billbennett.com/guest/conservative-leaders-for-education/.

Watch the videos [here]


Conservative ESSA-Focused Group Led by Bill Bennett Expands Reach

Education Week | Andrew Ujifusa | 10/24/16

Amidst various players like the teachers’ unions looking to influence the Every Student Succeeds Act at the state level, a group led former Secretary of Education William Bennett is seeking to make its mark.

Conservative Leaders for Education, which formed last July to push for accountability, high academic standards, local control, and school choice under ESSA, officially announced Monday it had signed up four state lawmakers and a state school board as new members in five new states: Alabama, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The five new members of the organization are:

  • Colorado Senator Owen Hill
  • Alabama Board Rep. Mary Scott Hunter
  • Ohio Senator Peggy Lehner
  • Wisconsin Senator Luther Olsen
  • Nevada Assemblywoman Melissa Woodbury

All of them are Republicans. And all, except for Hunter, are leaders of their respective legislative education committees. Last July, the group indicated that they had signed up lawmakers from all these states, except Nevada, but didn’t name names… [more]

Proposed ESSA Spending Rules Unveiled

Education Week | Andrew Ujifusa | 8/31/16 –

After months of criticism from Republican lawmakers, state chiefs, and teachers’ unions on its approach to spending rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the U.S. Department of Education Wednesday released a new proposal that appears to give districts and states some additional flexibility when it comes to ensuring federal funds for low-income students don’t replace state and local dollars.

Click here to read more.

CL4E Weighs In on Proposed Department of Ed Rules on ESSA

This week, several members of the Conservative Leaders for Education coalition officially submitted comments on the proposed accountability rules laid out by the U.S. Department of Education under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The draft rules were formally released and opened up for public comment in May, and that comment period closed Aug. 1.

See a copy of the members comments here or below.


August 1, 2016

Meredith Miller
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Room 3C106
Washington, DC 20202-2800

Docket ID:  ED-2016-OESE-0032

Dear Ms. Miller,

Conservative Leaders for Education (CL4E) is a new initiative chaired by former Education Secretary William Bennett and comprised of state policy makers and legislators with an acute interest in and purview over education policy. Specifically, we have articulated four fundamental principles that we believe should underpin all education policy. Those principles are: Local Control, Choice, Accountability and Quality Content.  To learn more about these principles, and our effort, visit our website at www.ConservativeLeaders4Ed.org.

We write today to provide our comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (DoE) proposed accountability and state plan regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as published in the May 26 Federal Register.

First, we commend Congress and the President for finally replacing No Child Left Behind (NCLB). States’ reliance on waivers put far too much power in the hands of the DoE, and NCLB’s discontinuation was an overdue and welcomed accomplishment. Education is key to not only the well-being of millions of children, but to the future prosperity of our nation. The ESSA decidedly returns the principal authority of education policymaking to its rightful place: states and localities.

Second, we are grateful for the opportunity to provide comments on the proposed regulations, specifically on the development of state accountability systems. We believe it is our responsibility to advise the DoE on regulatory provisions that threaten to violate the spirit of the law and specifically where we think the language will encroach on the control allocated to states and localities under the law. The DoE writes that “we are proposing these regulations to provide clarity and support to SEAs, LEAs, and schools as they implement” the ESSA. However, the current regulations by the DoE walk a fine line of potentially undermining the rights of each state and the intended goal of providing clarification and guidance on ESSA implementation. States have the tools, local knowledge and expertise to make sure systems are transparent and hold schools accountable for the success of their students. The regulations must afford them every opportunity to get education back on track in a way that meets the needs of their states.

We provide the following specific comments pursuant to the implementation of ESSA and the regulations proposed by the DoE.

  1. Accountability Indicators: Under the law, each State must establish “systems of annual meaningful differentiation” for public schools, based on 5 indicators: academic achievement, graduation rates, a measure of student growth if determined appropriate by the state, progress in achieving English language proficiency, as well as at least one other “indicator of school quality or student success.”  Under the law, the indicator of school quality or student success must receive less weight than the combination of the other indicators.We strongly believe that academic achievement must be the central measure of an accountability system. Some – not all, but some – administrators, boards, and educators may try to hide behind other nonacademic measures. However, if students are not learning the basics then they will struggle to find a decent job or to be successful in college. Others are requesting that proposed language around school quality and student success should not be as stringent, we disagree. Non-academic skills and school culture can be informative, but proper measures should be put in place to ensure that those factors do not overshadow the extent to which a school is serving the academic needs of students. State education systems must measure students’ academic skills and knowledge, period. We urge the department to resist the calls of others to loosen the law’s intent on non-academic indicators.
  1. Transparency: ESSA maintains that previously required information provided by states to parents and the public continue and be augmented by additional important information such as per-pupil expenditures by school.Fundamental to a quality education system is the ability for parents and community leaders to be informed consumers, as taxpayers and key stakeholders in the system. For far too long, information related to school, district, and state accountability has either not been completely honest or has been buried on government websites under mounds of indecipherable data.  We have a moral obligation to prioritize the data that matters most to parents and ensure that they receive it in a clear and concise manner.  We support the regulations reflection of this expanded transparency and urge you to maintain requirements that the information be more timely and meaningful for parents.  We particularly applaud the attention given to the “Parent Report Cards” in the law and the subsequent requirement to obtain parent feedback in the development of the new report prior to its submission to the DoE.  We highly recommend that in addition to the content, there be an emphasis on a robust distribution plan.  Parents will do what is best for their children and often serve as a catalyst for innovation when equipped with actionable information.


  1. Stakeholder Engagement: We value the flexibility that has been given to the states to create their own accountability systems designed to meet the unique needs of the states.  It is an opportunity to bring in a diverse and fully invested group of stakeholders across all parts of the community to create a shared vision of success for students.The proposed rule currently includes language clarifications by the DoE to address early stakeholder engagement in the development of various components of state plans.  We strongly recommend that you not prescribe or direct those stakeholder engagement activities, respect state autonomy and allow state leaders to lead the way in executing effective stakeholder engagement plans that actively involve all key stakeholders. In particular, we will be encouraging states to ensure that employers and higher education leaders, are invited to provide their unique perspective on the individualized needs of the state economies as a part of the goal setting process.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these proposed rules. Please contact us if we can help represent the point-of-view of conservative state lawmakers. To learn more about our organization, visit www.ConservativeLeaders4Ed.org.



Representative Paul Boyer (AZ)
Chair, House Education Committee

Senator Owen Hill (CO)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

Mary Scott Hunter (AL)
Representative, Alabama Board of Education

Senator Peggy Lehner (OH)

Senator Luther Olsen (WI)
Chair, Senate Committee on Education

Representative Amanda Price (MI)
Chair, House Education Committee

Senator Howard A. Stephenson (UT)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

Senator Mike Wilson (KY)
Chair, Senate Education Committee

(All signatories are founding members of Conservative Leaders for Education)



Bill Bennett: Conservatives, we’ve got a rare opportunity to lead on education

Fox News | Bill Bennett | 7.28.16

Ahead of the Democratic National Convention this week, party leaders recently released the official Democratic policy platform. Not surprisingly, when it comes to education—an issue that has long been considered a mainstay of the Left—the agenda bends to teachers’ unions and other interest groups at odds with meaningful education reforms.

Americans deserve better, and they can do better. The 2016 election cycle, coupled with the overdue reforms delivered in the Every Student Succeeds Act, presents an opportunity for conservatives to re-stake the Republican Party as the champion of prudent and pragmatic education policy. And we can do so by articulating positions with a proven track-record of success: Greater local control, parental choice, high academic standards and aligned assessments, and honest frameworks for measuring student development and keeping teacher, principals, and districts accountable.

Already, momentum is in our favor. In December, the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law with broad bipartisan support. The law forever ends No Child Left Behind and marks a historic return of control over education issues to state and local authorities—from classroom expectations to funding to accountability measures and beyond. The law has been heralded as a “huge win for conservatives,” but to ensure these reforms translate to tangible results will require conservative leaders to offer solutions, especially at the local level.

This week I was proud to join several Republican leaders from across the country to launch Conservative Leaders for Education. Comprised of conservative-minded state lawmakers and education policy makers, the coalition is committed to advocating principled policy as states begin to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act.

At the same time, the organization will serve as a clearinghouse of best practices, where educators, policymakers and the public can share ideas and contribute to a constructive policy discussion.

The formation of Conservative Leaders for Education comes at a pivotal time. Over the past thirty years the United States has gradually ceded control of education to a centralized, big government. Faced with rigid mandates from Washington, policymakers often inflated performance measures by systematically lowering the bar for schools. As a result, many students were often told they were on track to graduate high school prepared for college or a career, when in fact they were not.

That reality has fueled the remediation crisis on college campuses. Today, more than 50 percent of first-time students at community colleges and nearly 20 percent of those entering four-year institutions need remediation to learn skills they should have mastered in high school. About four in 10 students who take remedial coursework will never complete a degree. And it’s not just at-risk students who take a hit; 45 percent of students who place into remediation come from middle- and high-income families.

While Washington’s role in education has grown, so too has special interest groups’ influence on policy development. Over the past several decades teachers’ unions have steadily increased lobbying efforts, which have roundly opposed any mention of accountability. Out of those campaigns underperforming teachers have found themselves comfortably immune from answering to student outcomes, while the public has received less actionable information about how well their kids are doing.

It is time we push past old education models which put the wellbeing of adults (unions, administrators, teachers, etc…) ahead of students. The Every Student Succeeds Act has sown the groundwork for conservative leaders to stand up for the principles and policies that will leave a meaningful and lasting footprint. And with record levels of Republican control at the state level, right now we have a rare opportunity to cement local control over education, school choice, honest accountability and high-level content in our schools and classrooms.

Those goals won’t be easily won. Unions and entrenched special interests will continue to unilaterally oppose measures that require them to answer to student performance and the effectiveness of schools. Many have already called on the U.S. Department of Education to regulate implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, even though many proposals violate the intention of the law. If conservatives are hesitant to take the lead, liberals will.

Fortunately, there are leaders within the Republican Party to carry this banner. Governor Mike Pence, who was recently tapped as the vice presidential nominee, has achieved remarkable success expanding school choice in Indiana, which now boasts one of the largest voucher programs in the country. Just as commendable are the citizen advocates, like those participating in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference this week, who demand education be accountable to those closest to it.

The Every Student Succeeds Act marks a unique devolution of the federal overreach into education. For the first time in decades, states will have nearly full autonomy over, and responsibility for, the outcomes of their students. I urge conservative leaders, parents and educators to join us in advancing principled policies that will ensure this moment produces the type of education systems that will equip our young people to lead.

William J. Bennett is a former U.S. Secretary of Education for President Ronald Reagan and host of America Strong: The Bill Bennett Podcast.

Ex-Education Secretary William J. Bennett Urges GOP to ‘Seize the Day’ on ESSA

Education Week | July 26th | Andrew Ujifusa

A new education policy group led by former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett wants to ensure that state Republican lawmakers stick to conservative principles as they implement the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Conservative Leaders for Education aims to promote school choice, local control, “transparent” and “timely” accountability, and “high academic standards” chosen by states as they shift to ESSA, the new federal education law passed last year. The idea behind the group is to push those principles in statehouses, but also to have state lawmakers share specific policy ideas to match.

“NCLB is dead. We urge states to seize the day. Republicans need to step up,” Bennett said in a phone interview, referring to the previous iteration of federal education law, the No Child Left Behind Act. “I’ve been complaining, worrying, wondering out loud, frustrated about education as a conservative. Democrats act as if they own it, and in many ways, they have owned it.”

We also got Bennett—the new group’s chairman, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s education secretary from 1985 to 1988—to discuss his dealings with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on education. More on that below.

Conservative Leaders for Education’s membership is made up of state lawmakers who chair education committees in eight states—Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin—and it will seek to add new state lawmakers in the future. (All of those states, except Colorado, have Republican governors.)

Right now, Republicans control 30 state legislatures and 31 governorships, and they have unified control of 22 states. The GOP has held sway over the majority of states since the 2010 elections, but Bennett said that up until ESSA, they didn’t have the freedom to create as much education policy as they might have wished. ESSA changes that, he said.

Conservative Leaders for Education will be particularly helpful for state lawmakers who have control over K-12 policy, but aren’t necessarily veterans of education policy and political battles, said Michigan GOP Rep. Amanda Price, the chairwoman of her chamber’s education panel and a member of the new group’s steering committee.

“I think it’s going to be a unique and useful resource for us,” Price, who’s been chairwoman of her chamber’s K-12 committee for about 18 months, said in a phone interview.

Unions, Choice, and Accountability

Bennett is particularly concerned that the two national teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, will exert more influence than Republican K-12 leaders as states and districts begin the shift to ESSA.

I asked the about the fact that the AFT and NEA were closely involved with the creation and passage of ESSA, and that the NEA even gave ESSA architect Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., an award last month. Bennett responded that while that may be true, he’s already seeing evidence that the unions are pushing for soft and fuzzy “subjective” accountability provisions that fly in the face of the new group’s principles.

And he cited AFT President Randi Weingarten’s attack on testing during her remarks at the Democratic National Committee on Monday.

“They’re happy to get this at the local level, they think they’re stronger at the local level,” Bennett said of the unions. “That’s why I think they’re giving at least two cheers for ESSA. … When you talk about choice, you know what the unions will say about that.”

But the new group doesn’t want state education departments in Republican-controlled states to be too prescriptive either—that goes against what ESSA should accomplish, said Kentucky Sen. Mike Wilson, the chairman of his chamber’s education committee, who is also on the new group’s steering committee.

“It stifles creativity and innovation that we know really happens at the local level,” Wilson said.

For his own part, Wilson said he’s been pushing for legislation to allow charter schools in Kentucky. He said his bill is in sync with ESSA because it would require Bluegrass State charter schools to be held to the same standard as traditional public schools.

One area where Wilson isn’t a huge fan of recent developments around ESSA? The requirement in draft ESSA accountability rules for a “single, summative rating” for schools that might mask specific issues in specific schools, he said. He thinks “dashboard” accountability can be more helpful. (His state’s schools chief, Stephen Pruitt, agrees.)

Those and other K-12 disagreements, like those in Michigan over teacher tenure and evaluations, show why the group is needed, Price said: “Education is not for the faint-hearted.”

Advising Trump

Apart from ESSA, I also asked Bennett, who now hosts a talk radio program, to flesh out comments he’s made previously that he’s been in contact with GOP nominee Donald Trump about education policy. Bennett, for example, has backed the Common Core State Standards, but Trump has denounced the standards, although without specifying why.

Bennett responded that he had one brief conversation with Trump, telling him he’d be happy to offer Trump advice about education. “He said, “Great, I’ll look forward to talking with you further,”” Bennett said, although he added that Trump hasn’t followed up.

However, Bennett said he has shared his ideas with conservative economists Stephen Moore and Lawrence Kudlow, who have been working with Trump’s campaign directly on policy. And Bennett noted that he’s also personally shared his ideas with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, although he hasn’t seen anything come of that.

Photo: Former Secretary of Education William Bennett. Michael Caulfield/AP-File