WASHINGTON, D.C. | April 7, 2011
Over the last several months, our committee has been actively examining the current state of education in the nation. We have listened to state and local leaders who are working to improve the quality of education our children receive. Through a series of hearings, we have heard stories of both challenges and opportunities facing schools.
The opportunities are found in the determination of countless individuals who realize our current system is failing our children and are fighting to do something about it. As a result, parents, grandparents, teachers, reformers, and community leaders are shining a bright light on a broken system and pursuing real change that puts children first.
The challenges, unfortunately, are in many ways found in an education bureaucracy resistant to the very kind of meaningful reforms people are trying to achieve. While well-intended, policymakers have over the years added layers of mandates and regulations that weigh down our nation’s schools. Every federal tax dollar spent should provide results, but we must ensure that the regulatory burdens don’t outweigh the benefits of federal assistance.
Today, the Department of Education administers 90 programs tied to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and other federal laws. Virtually every program has its own application process, separate or duplicative reporting requirements, and different eligibility criteria.
It’s a complicated system levied on our schools, and dedicating the time and resources necessary to navigate this bureaucratic maze inevitably means time and resources spent outside the classroom.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the red tape confronting schools, we have even created federal programs designed to help alleviate the myriad requirements of other federal programs. Initiatives like the State Flex Program and the Local-Flex Program promise relief, yet few states or school districts have signed up because of the additional paperwork these programs require, or simply because these programs fail to offer the flexibility schools desperately need.
Clearly a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, resulting in frustration among parents and educators and missed opportunities for students. If we are going to move forward in education, Washington has to move in a new direction. States and schools should be able to set their own innovative priorities and receive maximum flexibility to advance those priorities. If a school determines greater resources are better spent on reading or new technologies, then it should be free to adjust its budget to reflect the reality of its classrooms.
This doesn’t mean schools and states are left unaccountable for how federal dollars are spent. Indeed, taxpayers should know where their hard-earned dollars are going and whether those dollars are achieving results. However, we must not allow the need for transparency and accountability to become a roadblock to local innovation. I am confident we can provide taxpayers the accountability they deserve while also offering schools the flexibility they need to help students succeed.
That is why your testimony is so important. This is our first of many opportunities to consider specific reforms to help fix what is broken in current law. Your personal experiences in your local communities will help us strike the proper balance between serving the interests of students and the concerns of the taxpayers.
As we’ve learned, education is critical to the strength of our workforce and the future success of our children. I look forward to working with you to help ensure every child has within their reach a quality education.