February 17, 2015 9:29 am

Thorner: Children will be further left behind if states don’t grab education reins

Keeping-our-children-safe-classroom

By Nancy Thorner – 

In accordance with the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, there is no lawful role for the federal government in education, hence: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

From ESEA to Common Core

Following the dictates of the 2nd amendment, the federal government has never had a primary role in the provision, administration, or funding of education. This all changed in 1965 when President Johnson passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which enormously expanded the federal government’s oversight of U.S. schools.  Historically reauthorized every five years, ESEA continued to expand with new mandates and billions of dollars in new spending.

About ESEA: Roughly 10% of the funding spent on K-12 education by the U.S. Department of Education — largely funneled through ESEA — goes to determine policies that impact everything from teacher certification, school assessment schedules, the types of program funding is spent on, and how much schools must spend in order to access federal funds.

With President George W. Bush came a bipartisan expansion and the renaming of ESEA to what we know as “No Child Left Behind.”  No Child Let Behind dictates that by the 2014-15 school year all students will have reached proficiency, with penalties for schools that do not meet the program’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  Nearly half of all American schools failed to meet AYP in 2012.  Read here about what NCLB requires of students and teachers.

It was No Child Left Behind that set the stage for Common Core.  Granted, NCLB did allow the Secretary of Education to waive some of its rather demanding provisions if a state requested relief, but the Obama administration went further by offering its own waivers in 2010 as an incentive (some say bribe) to adopt the administration’s preferred policies.  Forty-three states were receptive to the administration’s waiver that exempted them from the onerous requirement of NCLB to meet its Adequate Yearly Progress requirement.  Accordingly, the states agreed — sight unseen and in exchange for the waivers — to adopt standards that are “common to a significant number of states.” 

Guess what?  The only standards that satisfied this commonality requirement are the Common Core standards.  As such states could continue to operate under NCLB and subject their schools to a cascade of penalties for failing to make AYP, or they could accede to the Obama administration’s wishes and adopt Common Core under which the federal government is dictating what is being taught in schools across the country.

U.S. House and Senate responses for re-authorization of No Child Left Behind lack boldness

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is up for re-authorization in the next two of weeks.  A proposal was passed out of the House Education and Workforce Committee on Wednesday, February 11th, for the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind.  The House version (an amended version of the Student Success Act), represents the largest federal law governing K-12 education policy with all the mandates that come with it.

Although the amended SSA that passed the House differs little from the proposal introduced in 2012 by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn) and could be considered a good first step, it is thought that given the new 2015 makeup of Congress, bolder conservative alternatives can be realized to improve NCLB.

Not unlike many proposal that originate in Congress, the existing House “Student Success Act” now under consideration for re-authorizing NCLB is a lengthy one at 616 pages long.  But despite its lengthy presentation, the proposal fails to take the necessary steps to genuinely limit federal intervention in education.  But is it even realistic to believe that a proposal 616 pages long would somehow reduce federal intervention in education?

The House proposal likewise maintains elevated levels of spending and does little to actually eliminate programs.  Although the House Committee does maintain that the bill consolidates more than 65 ineffective, duplicative and unnecessary programs into a Local Academic Flexible Grant, as so often happens in bill-writing, the meaning of words used do matter.  In this case spending for duplicate and unnecessary program are hidden by being lumped together (consolidated) into a larger umbrella grant.

The House “Student Success Act” reauthorization discussion draft would spend $23 billion annually, which is roughly what is currently spent under No Child Left Behind. Specifically, the Student Success Act authorizes:   

  • Title I (Funding for low-income districts) $16,245,163,000
  • Title II (Teacher Preparation) $2,788,356,000
  • Title III (Parental Engagement) $2,718,934,000
  • Title IV (Impact Aid) $1,288,603,000
  • Title V (Indian Education) $198,145,000
  • Total $23,239,201,000 (annually from 2016 – 2021)

In the Senate the HELP Committee, chaired by Lamar Alexander (R-TN), has produced an ESEA re-authorization discussion draft in the hope of gathering more support, which most likely will provide even fewer reductions in federal intervention. Not surprising is that the White House has already denounced the House produced “Student Success Act” because it shifts control from the federal to state levels. 

In substance the House and Senate proposals mirror each other more than they differ.  Not good is that both proposals fail to sufficiently reduce federal intervention in education and therefore miss a golden opportunity to advance conservative principles. Despite the evident flaws, the committees in both the House and the Senate have expressed a desire to quickly reauthorize the NCLB law. 

Ballooning spending and a bloated federal bureaucracy restrict education progress 

How is it that this nation spends more money per student than any other country in the world except for Luxembourg, and yet scores below the Slovak Republican and the Russian Federation, both of which have a vastly lower standard of living and spend but a fraction of what this nation spends on education.  In 2012 alone the American taxpayers footed education to the tune of $25 billion.  And what about achievement results?  They have remained flat or have increased only slightly.

Not only is educational spending ballooning, but so is the bureaucracy that oversees education in Washington, D.C.  The federal Department of Education employs some 4,200 people.  At the state level an average of 540 individuals are employed in each state’s education agencies.  Need I say more about the cost factor of federal intervention in education?  Title I, a section of the Elementary and Secondary Act passed by President Johnson in 1965, costs states and school districts 7.8 million man-hours every year to administer.    

Suggested strategies for legislators to employ in re-authorization of NCLB

Following are suggested strategies for taking the federal government out of the education business when No Child Left Behind comes up for re-authorization in the next two weeks.

  1. An A-PLUS Approach
  2. Reduction of Federal Footprint.
  3. True Title 1 Portability.
  4. Elimination of Federal Mandates.
  5. Strengthen Prohibitions on National Standards and Testing.

The A-Plus Approach by itself would enable states to lead on education reform by allowing them to completely opt out of NCLB and then decide how their education dollars would be spent. Thus, all of a state’s federal funding authorized under NCLB could be used for any other lawful education purpose deemed beneficial.  

It goes without reason that those interested in restoring state and local control of education need to advance genuine program elimination, as well as commensurate reductions in spending.  Policies must be enacted that put education on the path toward restoring state and local control of education,  so options are offered to entitle parents.  This would include making Title l dollars portable to public and private schools of choice. 

Getting engaged at local level

In a message to U.S. House and Senate members, your present proposals fail to get the government out of the education business.  Instead, bold reforms are needed that are missing from your current legislative efforts to deal with No Child Left Behind. Policymakers should empower states to completely exit the 600-page law .  A half-century of federal meddling in education has produced very little except for growth in Washington bureaucracy at the expense of parents and local control.  Evidence accumulated over the last five decades attest to the ineffectiveness of federal government intervention in improving educational outcomes, over that of policy makers at the state and local levels.  Why?  There exists a greater responsiveness to students and their families at the state and local levels.

In the coming week members of Congress will be in their respective districts for a week long recess.  Through this week call your member’s district office. As this week ends, shift your calls to the D.C. office.  It’s time to get engaged. NCLB is everything that’s wrong with the federal government’s involvement in education.

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