WASHINGTON, D.C. | November 19, 2010
The following op-ed was published online in The Washington Examiner.
At first glance, it may be difficult to understand the pairing of education and workplace issues in a single congressional committee. What does a third grade classroom have in common with a construction site? How do school lunches relate to small businesses? As unlikely a duo as these issues may seem, they are actually quite closely related.
Both education and our workforce are vital to America’s continued economic success on an increasingly competitive world stage. Both areas require flexibility and adaptability; they rely on constant innovation to keep pace with rapid changes.
And in both cases, excessive federal intervention does far more harm than good. When the new Congress is gaveled into session in January, our guiding principle must be for the federal government to do no harm in our schools or on our job sites.
Education reform is a pressing American concern. Too many parents are denied meaningful choices about where and how their children will be educated. Too many schools are failing to prepare our children for success in the 21st century. And far too many teachers, principals, and state leaders feel constrained in their ability to improve the status quo because of layers of bureaucracy and onerous federal mandates.
Across the country, many have begun to wonder why we have a federal Department of Education at all. What makes us think bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. can manage our classrooms and prepare our children for success any more effectively than qualified teachers and engaged local school boards? This frustration is the natural consequence of a system that has grown in size, influence, and cost but yielded few meaningful rewards in the eyes of parents and educators.
As we evaluate the challenges and opportunities for improving our schools, consider the parallels for our workforce. Just as schools must excel to ensure economic success in the future, workplaces must thrive if we are to recapture economic success today.
Yet too often, entrepreneurs and business operators are stymied in their efforts to create jobs because of uncertainty about the regulations, tax hikes, and red tape handed down from Washington.
The federal government cannot legislate and regulate its way to job creation or economic recovery, but Congress can help foster a climate of workplace certainty. By removing the threat of anti-job policies, we can help get job creators off the sidelines and putting Americans to work.
Although most of the hard work will be done far outside of Washington, one early step we in Congress can take to improve our schools and workplaces is to thoroughly examine the costs, benefits, and consequences of current federal programs and interventions.
With myriad federal education programs already on the books, it is only reasonable to ask what specific and necessary function every individual program or initiative is serving. Is each and every program delivering results? How much time must school administrators spend filling out grant applications and writing reports for the federal government? Would education improve if the policies coming out of Washington were simpler and more narrowly focused?
Likewise, we can thoroughly analyze the mandates and limitations the federal government has imposed on our workplaces. We can examine the complex system of worker and retiree benefits and protections that are federally governed and ask whether current rules are helping or hindering individuals and our economy.
Employer-provided health care and retirement benefits are inexorably linked to the overall success of our workforce, which is why these issues will be central to any discussion about job creation and economic recovery.
Are the rules providing necessary protections to workers or merely creating animosity between government and free enterprise? Are the regulations that govern our workforce sensible or arbitrary? How can we more fully understand and protect the interests of workers and employers alike?
As Republicans prepare to lead, we do so with humble recognition of the trust and responsibility the American people have bestowed on us. We are eager to govern in a way that always considers the interests of our children and families, our workers and retirees, and the taxpayers to whom we are accountable.
That these interests are ultimately met through restrained federal involvement in order to foster the creativity and ingenuity of the American people helps explain why policies affecting our schools and workplaces are not so dissimilar after all.
Rep. John Kline is a Minnesota Republican and ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
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