WASHINGTON, D.C. | July 13, 2011 -
I’d now like to turn to consideration of the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, which is the third in the committee’s series of reforms designed to overhaul current elementary and secondary education law.
Since the beginning of the 112th Congress, members of this committee have met with teachers, principals, superintendents, and state leaders to discuss ways to improve the nation’s education system. The information and feedback gained from these meetings has helped us develop a series of legislative proposals that address key areas for reform, two of which this committee has already approved.
Today, we will consider the third in this series, the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act. This legislation builds on our ongoing efforts to streamline the federal role in education and spur local innovation. H.R. 2445 will provide states and school districts with maximum flexibility in the use of federal education funds.
Particularly in this tough economy, schools need the freedom to target resources to the programs and initiatives that will have the greatest positive impact on student achievement. The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act will remove restrictive funding streams, and allow states and school districts to rededicate funds received under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the EduJobs Fund to the programs that are most beneficial to their students.
Time and time again, school officials have talked about the innovative reforms they would undertake if only they had the flexibility to target federal funds according to their priorities.
Recently, a superintendent from Arkansas shared with me his frustration that the volume of distinct federal education programs – some larger, some very limited, each with a separate set of restrictions and regulations – make developing a strategy to achieve broad goals unnecessarily difficult. The ability to transfer funds and respond more effectively to local needs, he said, will help local educational professionals get the results we all seek.
In a hearing in this committee earlier this year, a superintendent from my home state of Minnesota discussed a successful effort to restructure math classes to better meet the needs of English Language Learner students – yet, despite positive outcomes, this initiative had to be discontinued due to limited resources. Meanwhile, he noted, funding for other federal initiatives often goes unused in his school district.
There seems to be a common understanding that providing states and school districts with the freedom and flexibility they need to innovate is one of the best things we can do to help improve student achievement. But Congress has rarely followed this path, choosing instead to layer program upon program, requirement on top of requirement, good intention upon good intention. As a result, our education system has become so burdened by top-down regulations that it is no surprise student achievement levels have stagnated.
The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act takes a new approach by putting decision-making back in the hands of the state and local officials who can develop effective programs and initiatives that best prepare children for success.
This does not mean states and school districts will be given carte blanche to spend taxpayer dollars without any accountability. Despite arguments to the contrary, this legislation maintains the precedent of holding states and school districts responsible for the achievement of all students, and preserves the monitoring, reporting, and accountability requirements of existing ESEA programs. Furthermore, the legislation includes a reasonable annual notification requirement that obligates school districts and states to report how they plan to use federal funds.
Both Republicans and Democrats share the goal of ensuring every student has access to a quality education. By providing freedom in the use of federal education resources, I firmly believe the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act will help states and school districts address the needs of all students, including low-income students, students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and migrant students.
I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can set misconceptions aside and join in a productive discussion about the legislation at hand today.
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